Ex-NFL player looks to take US Rep. Labrador's seat

BOISE, Idaho (AP) When Jimmy Farris first came back to Idaho to run for Congress, he was best known for his career as a professional football player.

But beyond his home state's borders, Farris is likely better known for races having nothing to do with politics, the federal deficit and defense spending.

To locals in Missoula, Mont., where Jimmy Farris starred on the University of Montana football team, they might remember the time he took a rancher's bet to race a horse and won. Farris also beams when he recounts a 2005 wager with famed NFL receiver Terrell Owens, who also finished second to Farris in a sprint while they were training together in Atlanta.

In the early days of his first political race, the 34-year-old Democrat from Lewiston says he imagined incorporating those feats into his campaign speeches or a television ad. The ad's tagline, he says, would go something like this: "Jimmy Farris once ran against a horse and won. He ran against one of the world's greatest athletes and won. Labrador you're next."

But now, with election just days away and very little money to spend on television spots, Farris is focused on sharpening the choice for voters in Idaho's 1st Congressional District.

In a debate last week, Farris tried to paint Republican incumbent Raul Labrador as a favorite of the extreme right wing of the GOP, a lawmaker whose reluctance to find compromise on deficit reduction, taxes and spending is doing the country more harm than good.

"Congress is in the way of us moving any legislation forward that could really address our problems," Farris said. "We can't do that because of the gridlock and partisanship in Congress, partially caused by my opponent.

"My goal is to get people to work together, to use my spirit of teamwork that I learned in the NFL. Until we can actually agree and pass legislation, nothing will ever move forward."

Labrador, a former state lawmaker and immigration attorney from Eagle, makes no excuses for sticking to the promises and principles he says got him elected to the House. Labrador, 44, defeated incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick in 2010, riding a wave of conservative and tea party support to a over a better funded moderate Democrat.

Across a district that covers western Idaho and stretches from Boise to Coeur d'Alene, Labrador touts his record of voting for spending cuts, smaller government and fewer taxes.

"I have done the things I told you I was going to do," Labrador said during the KTVB-TV debate held in Nampa.

He has also built a significant lead in campaign fundraising, providing a clear advantage in the final days of election season.

Earlier this month, Farris reported raising just $32,000 since August, a total similar to previous reports filed with the Federal Election Commission in the last year and less than a fifth the campaign receipts posted by Labrador during the period.

Labrador pulled in more than $170,000 since August and during the entire election cycle has reported taking in more than $839,000. His campaign's most recent disclosure shows he has more than $292,000 cash on hand heading into the final days.

When talking to voters, Labrador makes no excuses for holding to his conservative principles and holding firm during the debate a year ago on raising the federal debt ceiling.

Labrador was among House Republicans who withheld support for raising the nation's borrowing limit until the bill featured a constitutional balanced budget amendment. The plan passed the House but was jettisoned in the Senate.

A bitterly fought compromise approved by both chambers in August prevented a U.S. default and cut $2.4 trillion in government spending. Labrador was the only member of Idaho's congressional delegation to vote against that plan.

He has proven popular during his first two years in office, with numerous media appearances and requests to campaign for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But his in-demand schedule has garnered criticism from Farris, who highlights the number of times Labrador missed votes in the U.S. House.

The freshman congressman has been absent from voting more than any other member of Idaho's congressional delegation, and at three times the rate of his predecessors in Congress, including Minnick.

Farris blasted Labrador for joining the Romney campaign in Miami in late September, the day before Congress voted on legislation Labrador co-sponsored to help foreign students who are legally in the country with advanced degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Under the bill Labrador helped introduce, these students could accelerate their transition into the U.S. workforce.

"Even in an economic downturn, there aren't enough U.S.-born graduates to meet the needs of high-tech employers," Labrador said. "Right now foreign-born students are benefitting from our education system and then going home to compete with us. This legislation allows us to retain their skills and innovation."

The bill had bi-partisan support but failed to achieve the required a two-thirds majority, a defeat Labrador blames on Democrats. But Farris says the bill's failure is more about Labrador's travel schedule, leaving him unable to rally support for his own legislation. Labrador returned to Washington in time to vote.

"Congressman Labrador is chronically absent from work, and therefore ineffective at doing his job," Farris said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.