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Tea Party intrigue makes for hot Idaho race

/ Source: The Associated Press

Voters in Idaho were choosing a GOP nominee for Congress on Tuesday in an unusually tangled battle that divided local and national tea party activists, and raised questions of plagiarism on the campaign trail.

Marine reservist Vaughn Ward and Idaho state lawmaker Raul Labrador were favored among five Republican candidates for the 1st Congressional District, with the winner to challenge freshman Rep. Walt Minnick in November.

Minnick is notable as the only Democrat nationwide to win backing from the national Tea Party Express, an endorsement that irritated local tea party activists, who also are split over their support for Ward and Labrador. Tea Party Boise, the state's biggest group, endorsed Labrador while Ward claims his own tea party following after winning the backing of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a darling of conservatives and tea partiers.

Palin visited Boise on Friday to raise money for Ward and give a jolt to undecided voters in the 19 western counties that make up only one of two congressional districts in the state.

The race also was marked by a series of stumbles by Ward, which, if he wins Tuesday, could haunt him in the fall.

He was accused of using position statements on his website that were identical to those posted on websites of Republican candidates in other states. Ward pulled the statements, but the flub led to the resignation of his campaign manager less than two weeks before the election.

He came under fire again last weekend for allegedly using statements in his campaign kickoff announcement in January that were similar to passages in the keynote address Barack Obama gave at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Ward's new campaign spokesman Mike Tracy acknowledged the similarities and said those lines were added by a staffer no longer with the campaign.

When the general election season begins Wednesday, the GOP nominee will face an uphill battle to match Minnick's cash advantage. Minnick raised more than $117,000 between April 1 and May 5, the last reporting period, and has more than $900,000 in cash on hand.

Minnick, who became the first Democrat to win the seat since 1994, also has shown a willingness to divert from his party, voting against federal bailouts and Obama's health care overhaul.