May 16, 2018

Thoughts on the Idaho Governor’s Race

Posted by Adam Graham in : Idaho Conservative, The

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 behind you the endorsement of newspapers and the unparalleled strength of the Idaho Republican establishment and teachers unions 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. She has some good qualities as a candidate. However, 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. His campaign was an utter disgrace. The Idaho Governor’s primary was so toxic due to Ahlquist’s negative, scorched Earth campaign. I had little opinion of Tommy Ahlquist one way or another when this started. I thought he was a well-intentioned guy (and maybe he was) but as he filled the airwaves and our mailboxes with his negative trash campaign, I 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 tip for a future outsider candidate. Try making us feel good about you rather than trying to make us hate your opponents. The successful outsider candidates 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 he tore down his opponents. And neither Labrador nor Little had the mind-blowing scandal or corruption that would make for a successful negative campaign, so Ahlquist was left trying to blow up petty issues into the scandal of the year. As much as I don’t like Brad Little, the fact Tommy Ahlquist’s attempt to buy our governorship failed is a positive.

Given Ahlquist campaigned against the political establishment and cronyism, it’s fair to ask, was he a vote-splitting phenomenon that 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 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 Ahlquist wasn’t in the race, and I 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 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 an appointment in the Trump Administration if he so desires. (But who desires that?)

That does bring me to Raul Labrador’s greatest mistake in this election. He decided to wrap his campaign in support for Donald Trump and 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 above water. Being the guy who stood by Trump should make you successful in MAGA-land.

However, 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 that didn’t back Trump. And even many who voted for Trump did so with reservations, and only voted for Trump 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, 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. Consider Luther Strange in Alabama. Trying to prove you’re the biggest Trump sycophant in the race isn’t how you win anything.

Despite this, there’s not a market for being anti-Trump in the Idaho Republican Party. However, there’s a significant downside to trying to shame voters who were less than enthused with Trump in 2016.

And the fact is Raul isn’t a Trump sycophant. He was the only candidate who Trump mean-tweeted. Raul Labrador record is as a  principled conservative who didn’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. Run your own race, not someone else’s. 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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