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Idaho Begins Process of Replacing Sen. Craig

All week long, the drumbeat for Craig's resignation came primarily from Washington. Even before Craig defended himself after the news broke, Senate Republicans were calling for an ethics investigation.

It wasn't long after that that Craig was stripped of his seniority on key committees — an unmistakable sign that he was in the dog house with party leaders.

That led to Craig's resignation, announced on a hill overlooking Boise, with a full complement of television trucks, lights and generators. Some locals showed up too, peering between the assembled reporters to watch their senator say he would not finish his term.

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"To Idahoans I represent, to my staff, my Senate colleagues, but most importantly to my wife and my family, I apologize for what I have caused. I am deeply sorry."

Craig's apology moved some of the same Republicans in Congress who had criticized him to say the senator should be remembered for his three decades of public service. Many Idahoans have been hesitant to repudiate the senator..

Vicky Williams, a Craig supporter, says the whole event felt like a political execution.

"It's almost like an animal frenzy," Williams said, "where you get a member of the pack that gets a bite or an infection, and they literally could peck him to death."

Democrats, too, were uneasy. State party executive director John Foster welcomes Craig's resignation, but he was surprised by how it happened.

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"Well the silence from Idaho Republicans has been deafening," Foster said. "Certainly not from the national Republicans, but within the state, there hasn't been one call for him to resign from any of his people."

Indeed, state Republicans have said very little about the scandal.

One exception has been Bryan Fischer, who runs a conservative grassroots organization called the Idaho Values Alliance.

"It was difficult for them to support what he had done, but at the same time, because of their affection and loyalty for the senator, they did not want to appear to criticize him," Fischer said. So the pressure for him to leave really came from the Republican Party.

In Idaho, public criticism of Craig came primarily from conservative groups like Fischer's, which called on Craig to quit soon after the scandal broke. Many conservatives were already disenchanted with Craig for other reasons — such as his support for immigrant labor.

It's now up to Republican Gov.Butch Otter to name Craig's replacement. It will be another Republican, of course, but many are wondering what type of Republican.

Gary Moncrief, who has been a political science professor at Boise State University for 30 years, says most bets are on Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who he says is a savvy politician who has long wanted to join the Senate. And the national Republican Party could also likely count on Risch to hold on to the seat in next year's election.

Normally pretty much anybody the Republicans put up would be presumptive favorite," Moncrief said, "but in the last couple of years in the inter-mountain West, we've seen Democrats making some inroads, and I suspect the Republican Party is getting nervous about that — even in Idaho."

Other potential replacements include Dirk Kempthorne, a former governor and senator, and currently the Interior Secretary in the Bush Administration; and Mike Simpson, the congressman from Idaho's Second Congressional District. Staffers for Gov. Otter say he is likely to wait a few days before making any decisions.

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