The last time an Idaho governor faced a serious primary re-election challenge, he won easily, but not because of massive across-the-board popularity: He proceeded to lose the general election. The last time it happened before that, the same man successfully defeated the then-incumbent governor, who had been elected three times before.
A lot depends on the mood of the party.
This bit of history involves Sandpoint rock dealer Don Samuelson, the conservative Republican who in 1966 beat three-term Governor Robert Smylie in the Republican primary, and won the office in that year's general election. In 1970 he was challenged, fairly seriously, by former Board of Education member Dick Smith, but easily won the primary. However, he lost in the fall to Democrat Cecil Andrus. He lost in part because some Republicans had become disaffected: The tenor of the party had shifted in ways that made them feel unwelcome and they voted across party lines.
That bit of history came to mind last week when Representative Raul Labrador, who has been much discussed as a possible gubernatorial candidate, said he would run for re-election to Congress instead.
The decision to stay put surely was the safer move. Ask politically connected Idahoans how they think a primary race between Labrador and incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter would play out, and you get a widely scattered opinions. Party registration for Republican primaries would have been a boon to Labrador, and he would have had a corps of enthusiastic backers, including much of the party structure – an unusual case when a two-term governor is talking about a third term. Labrador would have been a strong contender.
At the same time, Otter has a well-established network, a campaign structure in place, all the financing he could want, and eight years of identification with the office. Those are strong advantages, but they're also the kinds of advantages Robert Smylie had. (more…)