For Sen. Larry Craig, who has been in politics since 1974, the recipe for success is simple: Be a Republican. After all, Idaho has boasted the most conservative state legislature in the country four years running.
"He's not popular
like (Wyoming Sen.) Alan Simpson was. People vote for him not so
much because of himself, but because of the "R" after his name,"
says Idaho conservationist Pat Ford.
Craig is not merely a Republican. He is an ƒberRepublican.
Just finishing his first term in the Senate, Craig, 51, is already
starring as the fourth-ranking Republican since he was elected
Policy Committee Chairman.
Named the most
conservative senator in the country in 1994 by National Journal (he
tied for first place with Idaho's other senator, Dirk Kempthorne),
Craig sits on the board of directors for the National Rifle
Association and chairs two key subcommittees on forestry. He wields
power - not a bad thing for lightly populated Idaho to have in
Born on the ranch his
grandfather homesteaded in 1899, Craig was student body president
at the University of Idaho and state president of Future Farmers of
America. Craig then spent six years in the state legislature and 10
years in the U.S. House of Representatives before he beat Democrat
Richard Stallings for Senate in 1990.
qualifications securely in place, Craig doesn't need to rely on
personality, says David Proctor, who works for the anti-nuclear
waste initiative campaign. "His whole style is to be above the
fray. You don't see much of Larry Craig. He's like the CEO of a
Behind the scenes, Craig
keeps the commodity groups happy. "We're very pleased with our
senator on all of the issues that a farmer is concerned about -
rangeland reform, endangered species, wetlands," says Greg Nelson
of the Idaho Farm Bureau.
legislation to weaken the Endangered Species Act and championed a
"takings' bill. Even union timber workers in the traditionally more
Democratic north support Craig for writing a "forest health" bill
that would expedite logging.
Craig has also
carried the torch of the mining industry. He led the fight against
reforming the 1872 Mining Law, and split from other Republicans by
voting to end a moratorium on patenting mining
The industries, in turn, have been kind
to Larry Craig. His list of Political Action Committee
contributions reads like a directory of natural resource
industries. For his first Senate race in 1990, $819,306 of PAC
money flowed to his coffers from groups like ASARCO Employees PAC
and the Chevron Employees PAC.
PACs advocating a
rewrite of the Endangered Species Act gave him $212,017 and mining
PACs alone gave him $65,858. By 1995, the mining PACs had already
matched that amount to aid his re-election bid.
Craig maintains that PAC contributions don't buy
his politics; he is merely trying to help his state's economy.
"When you're supporting the industries of the state and the jobs of
the state, therefore you're supporting the people of the state," he
told the Associated Press.
skeptical of this reasoning: Mining provided only 2,700 jobs in
Idaho in 1995, according to the Idaho Department of Labor, about
half of 1 percent of the state's jobs. Agricultural employment
accounts for approximately 6 percent of the state's jobs. And two
of Craig's biggest contributors are companies that want to mine
exclusively in Colorado and Nevada.
changing demographics bring an end to Craig's
Most democrats say the jury is still
out, but Mike Tracy, a spokesman for Craig's campaign, says,
"Exactly the opposite is true. Conventional wisdom was that with
people moving here we would become a more democratic state. People
underestimated the value of the conservative climate here."
Tracy points to Dawn Berheim and her husband,
Greg. Young, newly married, middle-class, they recently moved from
New Mexico to Meridian, a bedroom town ten miles west of Boise. The
Berheims are just the sort of voters Walt Minnick is counting on.
But they are voting for Craig.
our family and he has a commitment to family issues. He pretty much
opposes abortion ... supports school prayer," says Berheim from the
pharmacy where she works. "The environment is not real important to
me. I think he's pro-environment, but not radically so."