NPR logo

Idaho Begins Process of Replacing Sen. Craig

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Idaho Begins Process of Replacing Sen. Craig


Idaho Begins Process of Replacing Sen. Craig

Idaho Begins Process of Replacing Sen. Craig

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

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.

"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."

Article continues after sponsorship

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

"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.

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig Resigns Amid Sex Scandal

Hear NPR's Martin Kaste and Debbie Elliott

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Hear NPR's Martin Kaste and Scott Simon

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Hear NPR's Ron Elving

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Hear NPR's Daniel Schorr

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Idaho Republican Larry Craig resigned Saturday from the U.S. Senate in the wake of a sex scandal that caused his party to ostracize him as its members feared the incident could hamper their re-election prospects.

"It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce it is my intent to resign from the Senate Sept. 30," said Craig in a news conference in Boise.

"In doing so, I hope to allow a smooth and orderly transition of my loyal staff and of the person appointed to take my place," he continued.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter attended the news conference but did not immediately name a replacement for the remaining 15 months of Craig's term in the Senate.

Despite nearly two decades in the venerable chamber, Craig lost the support of fellow Republicans after news that he was arrested in June in a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. Police were targeting the airport's men's bathroom because of complaints of lewd behavior there.

Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in August. He managed to evade media notice both times. But when he was finally found out, he became an object of national derision, not so much for his offense as for his defense.

Having been caught soliciting a male undercover officer, Craig initially pleaded guilty. But now he says he erred in doing so and was only trying to hide the incident from the media.

"I apologize for what I have caused. I am deeply sorry," he said, but added that he has "little control over what people choose to believe."

Craig said he is stepping aside to fight to redeem his name.

"To pursue my legal options, as I continue to serve Idaho would be an unwanted and unfair distraction from my job and for my Senate colleagues. The people of Idaho deserve a senator who can devote 100 percent of his time and effort to the critical issues of our state and of our nation," he added.

Outraged GOP Forsakes Comrade

GOP leaders weren't willing to support Craig. They stripped him of leadership duties on Wednesday, a day after calling for an investigation of his actions by the Senate Ethics Committee, and repeatedly called for his resignation.

There may have been a time when Craig's party would have rallied around — or at least dropped a cone of silence over — any embattled member of its ranks.

But the image of the party that heralds decency, family values and faith-based initiatives has become sorely tarnished lately. Mostly recently, Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, apologized in July for his use of a D.C. "escort service."

Nearly a year ago, six-term Rep. Mark Foley, a Republican from Florida, resigned after reports that he had sent sexually explicit Internet messages to an underage male former page.

Craig to Stay Through September

Sen. Craig opted to bow out at the end of the month in order to avoid becoming a hindrance. He said the ongoing war in Iraq and other business of the government requires the Senate's full attention.

In thanking Idahoans for allowing him to serve in the Congress he also asked for their forgiveness.

"Each day, week, year brought new challenges to create a better life for Idahoans. I hope you do not regret the confidence you have placed in me over all of these years," he said.

The three-term Republican senator maintains that he did nothing wrong, and is adamant about his sexuality. "I am not gay. I never have been gay," he said in a news conference earlier in the week.

But he admits to the mistake of pleading guilty without consulting a lawyer.

Idaho Governor to Pick Craig's Replacement

Craig was up for re-election next year.

Idaho is one of the nation's most reliably Republican states. The GOP controls the statehouse and all four seats in Congress, and President Bush carried the state in 2004 with 68 percent of the vote.

Gov. Otter was reportedly expected to tap James Risch, the lieutenant governor, to replace Craig.

Risch served for seven months as governor last year after former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was named interior secretary. Risch had said earlier he was interested in Craig's Senate seat if Craig did not seek re-election in 2008.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press