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The snoozer asterisk

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

In Idaho, one election cycle out of every three qualifies as a big campaign year for Idaho – highlighted by races for both governor and senator – and 2014 will be one of them.

Those aren’t the presidential election cycles. General election presidential campaigning in blood-red Idaho just doesn’t happen anymore, although it does see some occasional some pre-nomination stumping, which Idaho did get in 2012. And election of all the statewide state offices are on the off-cycles, the mid-terms, away from presidential years. But only some of those have elections for the U.S. Senate; 2010, 2004 and 2002 did, but 2006 and 2000 did not. 2014 will feature one of those double headers.

That year Idaho gets a senate race, a governor’s race, the rest of the statewides and the regular two-year offices (mainly legislature). In some years that’s been enough to grab all kinds of attention around the state.

It might nonetheless be a snoozer. But for some of the same reasons it might be dull and almost ignorable, it could turn into a lively scrap at the primary level.

Last week Senator Jim Risch said specifically he plans to run for re-election next year. Risch knows the value of early announcements; that part of how now-Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter got the jump on the Republican nomination for the office, despite initial interest from Risch, in 2006. By announcing early, odds are that Risch has cleared the field of serious opposition. If, say, Representative Raul Labrador had been interested, the time for a push would have been before a Risch announcement. Now the state’s Republican organizations and alliances will have time to coalesce around him, leaving few scraps for any in-party opposition.

It’s possible something similar may happen with Otter; he too has recently said more conclusively that yes, he plans to run for a third term (though his age and the question of what he would want to do with it remain). If he had any plans for opting out, he presumably would have moved to help better position Lieutenant Governor Brad Little for the job.

The closest thing to a wild card among major offices seems to be Superintendent of Public Instruction, mainly because incumbent Tom Luna endured a big crashing ballot issue defeat last year on school overhaul, the centerpiece of his two terms in office.

But here’s the asterisk: What happens if outsider activists, whether Tea Party-affiliated or otherwise, decide to crash the soiree and run against long-time insiders?

They may have some motivation. Risch and Otter both have been in Idaho politics a very long time; each was first sworn into an elective office more than 40 years ago. They have had two of the longest and most successful political careers in Idaho history. But exactly that could be an irritant to people agitated at the idea of business as usual. Age could be symbolic: Completing a second term in the Senate, Risch would be 77; completing his third as governor, Otter would be 76.

That’s the question as we approach the enter-or-not phase of this term’s campaign cycle.

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