An Idaho kind of selection?

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STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Toward the end of the Idaho Republican gubernatorial debate Wednesday, candidate Harley Brown remarked, “You have your choice, folks: A cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy. Take your pick…”

Were those candidates for governor of Idaho or the Village People?

Alternatively, there’s a more philosophical description at the delighted liberal website Daily Kos: “There’s Anarchist-Leaning Tea Party Guy, there’s Old West Sovereign Citizenish Guy, there’s Ideological Party Purist Peeved At Establishment Guy and there’s Establishment Guy Peeved At Ideological Guy. In Republican Party races we call that the sampler pack.”

That might not be as most people perceived it, though. Few paid much attention to the two guys – incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter and challenger Russ Fulcher – who have an actual chance to win. The many, many, many collections of video clips on the web in the hours and days after the debate overwhelmingly focused on the other two, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes.

They were great television. The debate played like a massive and slow-mo car wreck, your eyes drawn repeatedly to Brown, the biker-garbed equal opportunity offender with visions (and tattoo) of the presidency, and Bayes, the Bible-quoting mountain man given to declarations of divine (and nuclear) retribution who might have been a distant relation to the Duck Dynasty. Otter and Fulcher who?

So. Huffington Post: “10 lessons we learned from Idaho’s incredibly dysfunctional GOP candidates.” The Portland Oregonian: “Leather-clad biker steals the show.” Gawker: “I can’t stop watching this bizarre Idaho GOP governor debate.” Fox News: “Eccentric candidates make for strange Idaho gubernatorial debate.” Raw Story: The debate “is so bonkers …” PBS: “In Idaho, a debate like you’ve never seen before.” Cybercast News Service: “Fringe contenders send Idaho governor debate viral.” It was the liberal Kos site which called the event “a thing of beauty.”

You can watch it on the Idaho Public Television web site. Go ahead. You won’t be bored.

Afterward, you might reflect on how little the debate had to do with the decision that voters in the Republican primary on May 20 will be making, which as a practical matter will be between Otter and Fulcher, either of whom might win. Brown will not. He is a perennial sliver candidate, running for U.S. House in 2010 (he got 3.9% of the vote) and 2000 (1.1%, losing to Otter) and Boise mayor in 2001 (3%) among a string of other offices. Bayes will not either: He ran, highly unsuccessfully, for governor in 2010 (3%) and 2006 (3.2%) and 2002 (4.7%).

They have every right to run. (Just watch: For Brown, president may well be next.) That doesn’t obligate debate organizers to give them a megaphone, or half of the air time in the lone exchange between the candidates who really may be running Idaho government for the next four years.

Otter’s campaign noted that he has called for inclusion of the minor candidates in past debates, and Otter was quoted as saying, “A statewide debate that excludes candidates is an exercise in elitism.”

Fulcher was aggravated. Noting Otter’s insistence on Bayes’ and Brown’s inclusion as a condition for participating, he said, “As a result, the ‘debate’ turned from a serious discussion regarding the position for Idaho’s Chief Executive, to a mockery of the Republican Party and of Idaho. Clearly, the governor wanted to take time away from me and minimize exposure to his failed record as governor. Apparently, Governor Otter is content to have Idaho be a laughing stock so long as it improves his chance of winning an election.”

As he suggests, Idaho now has a new reputational issue to deal with. Many viewers around the country seem to have thought, incorrectly, that all four of these candidates were equally vetted and presented as sound representatives of Idaho Republicans – that, as Otter seemed to suggest, the inclusion of Brown and Bayes was simply avoidance of elitism. That poses question for the future: Are they right, that the four debaters really are a fair representation of Idaho Republicans? If – in that construct – Otter and Fulcher are the “elites,” then are Brown and Bayes fairly representative of the mass of Idaho Republicans?

They can have their pick.

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