Apparently, this latest sort of dustup started with this short item yesterday in the Coeur d'Alene Press, a second-hand report which hasn't much been expanded upon by official sources:
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced to a Governor’s Ball crowd of about 200 Wednesday night in Coeur d’Alene that he’ll seek re-election in 2014, The Press has learned.
Sources told The Press that Otter twice confirmed to the audience that he will be on the 2014 ballot for governor.
By this morning, the talk was all over: Was the 2014 governor's race now just a pro forma, with C.L. "Butch" Otter automatically the gov for another seven years? No Brad Little, no Raul Labrador, no Tom Luna? (None of whom, surely, would primary Otter.)
Start with this: While serious won't-run announcements occasionally are made as early as this (Cecil Andrus and Dirk Kempthorne both made them), serious will-run announcements almost never are. Even the won't-runs aren't typical, because it time-stamps the end of your clout. But will-runs, while they may be sort of presumptive (especially in the case of first terms), are a different matter. Few are willing to commit that far into the future, for good reason. Things can change, and often do.
In Otter's case, one of those things simply could be age. When his current term is up, he'll be 72; at the end of a term after that, 76. And they could be achievement: It's not at all clear what Otter intends to achieve in this term that he didn't in his last. What would be his fresh agenda for a third?
The Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey has three other convincing and plausible reasons not to accept a will-run announcement at this point: He needs to project strength going into a tough 2012 legislative session; his campaign treasury is deeply in debt (to the tune of around $200,000), and a possible future campaign could help him with fundraising; and he may want to push back against critiques (like the one here in a recent Chris Carlson column) that he's been "phoning it in" as a part-time, detached governor.
2014 is a long way off. Foreclose no options just yet.
UPDATE Two additional thoughts, both from credible sources, pointing in two different directions. Or maybe they mesh together, though both point to a retirement scenario.
One: Otter was caught off-guard and didn't want to look weak in front of a supportive crowd.
Two: "Which is that Otter has announced to keep Luna, Wasden, and Labrador from being able to start fundraising... The lobbyists all know that Otter isn't going to run again and that Little is the man afterwards."
Otter is just buying Little more time to get his house in order