Idaho state Rep. Raul Labrador won the Republican nomination Tuesday in the state's nationally targeted 1st Congressional District, pulling an upset over rival Vaughn Ward.
Labrador won the race despite a significant fundraising disadvantage and a campaign endorsement for Ward by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Labrador's victory sets up a battle with first-term Democrat Walt Minnick in November.
"I am committed to having a vigorous debate and running an honorable campaign focused on what is best for America and what is best for Idaho," he said.
Labrador entered the race late, launching his bid just six months ago. In a short span, the nomination contest became an unusually tangled battle that divided local and national tea party activists and raised questions of plagiarism on the campaign trail.
With 435 of 462 precincts reporting, Labrador collected 48.1 percent of the vote compared to 38.8 percent for Ward, who described the race as "a humbling experience."
Ward was an early front-runner in the primary race, built a six-to-one fundraising edge and was designated as one of the National Republican Congressional Committee's top 23 recruits in its "Young Guns" candidate development program.
"I called Raul Labrador and congratulated him on his victory and will support him in his effort to reclaim this seat for the GOP in November," he told The Associated Press.
Palin came to Idaho 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.
But her endorsement appeared to have little effect on the conservative western Idaho voters who typically predominate in the state's primaries.
The race also was marked by a series of campaign stumbles by Ward, a decorated Iraq veteran.
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.
"He was the front-runner, here we are, his empire starts crumbling. It's kind of embarrassing," said state Sen. Monte Pearce, a New Plymouth Republican and one of his chamber's most conservative members.
"I saw people at the store, people in the polls, everybody just shaking their heads," Pearce said.
But now the hard part begins for Labrador, a two-term lawmaker from Eagle.
He faces another difficult challenge against Minnick, who has more than $1 million cash on hand heading into the general election season.
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.
"Those votes reinforce that he's been true to his word when he ran two years ago," Minnick campaign manager John Foster said. "They like him here because he's fiscally accountable and conservative."
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