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Thoughts on the Idaho Governor’s Race

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 6:25
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So it looks like Lieutenant Brad Little has narrowly won Idaho’s Governor’s race. He leads Raul Labrador by four points with only thirty-two precincts to be counted and the AP has called the race. At the same time former State Representative Paulette Jordan has been nominated for Governor by the Democrats.

Brad Little showed the Butch Otter formula worked: run a campaign pretending to be a conservative and dress like a cowboy, while gathering the endorsement of newspaper and the unparalleled strength of the Idaho Republican establishment and teachers unions behind you and you too can be nominated for Governor.

Little should prevail in the Fall. Jordan has many positives as a candidate and will draw massive media coverage due to her being a Native American woman running for Governor and I think she has some good qualities as a candidate. However, I think she’s too liberal for the state, particularly on abortion. Resentment against Little runs high in the GOP where nearly 2/3 of Idaho Republicans wanted someone else.  I think most Republicans will hold their nose despite objections to him. I’ll vote for neither of them.

I’d like to congratulate Tommy Ahlquist on running a positive inspiring campaign. I’d like to, but I can’t because his campaign was an utter disgrace. The Idaho Governor’s primary was so toxic due to Ahlquist’s negative scorched Earth campaign. I had very little opinion of Tommy Ahlquist one way or another when this started. I thought he was a well-intentioned guy (and who knows maybe he was) but as he filled the airwaves and our mailboxes with his negative trash campaign, I really began to loathe his campaign.

I lost count of the number of pieces of campaign literature I received in the mail from this guy. It was ridiculous. Here’s a pro-tip for future outsider candidate. Try making us feel good about you rather than trying to make us hate your opponents. The successful outsider candidates generally make us feel like we’re dealing with a Class A individual who would be great at the job despite their lack of experience. Ahlquist couldn’t do that, so instead he tore down his opponents. And neither Labrador or Little had the mind-blowing scandal or corruption that would make for a successful negative campaign, so Ahlquist was left trying to blow up some petty little issues into the scandal of the year. As much as I don’t like Brad Little, the fact that Tommy Ahlquist’s attempt to buy our governorship failed is a positive.

Given Ahlquist campaign against the political establishment and cronyism, it’s fair to ask, was he a vote-splitting phenomena that actually helped prolong the run of the Idaho political establishment? Many Labrador supporters might say that, but I’ll admit to being less sure. The campaign was endorsed by Mitt Romney. Many of the figures who ran his campaign are the type of people you’d expect to be backing Little, but I also think he ran a campaign that had a conservative platform (although you barely heard about that in the last few weeks) and was for term limits. For Ahlquist’s campaign to have been decisive, 58% of his supporters would have to be people who would back Labrador if he wasn’t in the race and I just don’t think that’s the case. If it is, it can’t be proved.

As to Raul Labrador, this is his first political loss, but it hardly finishes him off. He has many great qualities as an intelligent guy and he can certainly run for office again if he chooses. Jim Risch isn’t a spring Chicken and his current term expires in 2020. If Labrador wants to run for the Senate, he could have an opportunity if there’s a retirement. He also could get some appointment in the Trump Administration if he so desires. (But who desires that?)

That does bring me to what I think was Raul Labrador’s greatest mistake in this election. He decided to wrap his campaign in support for Donald Trump and try to bludgeon Little and Ahlquist for being insufficiently supportive of Trump in 2016 I can see the strategy behind it, Trump won Idaho by a solid margin in the General election and it’s been one of the few states where Trump has maintained an approval rating that’s above water. Being the guy who actually stood by Trump should make you successful in MAGA-land.

However, the fact is that Idaho was one of Trump’s worst primary states.  In the 2016 Republican Primaries, 72% of Idaho Republicans voted for someone else. In the fall, 7% of voters voted for Evan McMullin, 4% voted for Gary Johnson, and a combined 1% voted for Darryl Castle and Scott Copeland. That’s a pretty large chunk of the right in this state. And even many who voted for Trump, struggled and did so with reservations just because they didn’t want  Clinton to win.

By making an issue over who was most supportive of Trump in 2016, Labrador’s campaign said to voters who were less than enthused about Trump, “We don’t understand you and think you are bad people because you didn’t get behind this campaign or you struggled to do so.” I voted for Labrador despite his crowing about being the pro-Trump candidate, not because of it.

I like him as a person and I thought he had a great plan for our state, so I can get past the whole Trump thing. But I can get how he would turn many people off.  The fact is that in the three years since Trump descended the elevator, Trump has endorsed a lot of good candidates and a lot of candidates have tried to wrap themselves in his banner, and no candidate has won because of Trump other than Trump. This goes back to Trump’s first endorsement after becoming the presumptive nominee. He backed Renee Elmers for re-nomination for Congress and she lost or consider Luther Strange in Alabama. Trying to prove you’re the biggest Trump sycophant in the race isn’t how you win anything.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s a market for being anti-Trump now in the Idaho Republican Party, but I also think there’s a significant downside to trying to shame any voter who was less than enthused with Trump in 2016.

And the fact is that Raul isn’t a Trump sycophant. He was the only candidate who Trump mean-tweeted. Who Raul Labrador has been is the guy who is a principled conservative who doesn’t always go along with the powerful whether it was Butch Otter, John Boehner, or Donald Trump.  I hope Labrador takes  a lesson from this and if he runs again, he runs his own race as his own person and ignores other campaigns in the past. There is no reason to limit the number of voters who will back you by being divisive about a campaign that’s over.


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