A simple decision about running for one office as opposed to another one has upended the calculus for both, and maybe for much more of Idaho Republican politics.
The candidate in question, of course, is former state Senator Russ Fulcher, who for a long time has been a candidate for governor, then on Thursday shifted his aim over to the first congressional district, to run for the U.S. House seat now held by Raul Labrador.
It’s doubtless a rational end result of working through the political calculus. But just as Labrador’s own announcement - to run for governor rather than for re-election - shifted the nature of the 2018 contest for both offices some weeks ago, so this one may have spinoff effects.
The result, for now, looks like improved odds for election for both Fulcher and Labrador.
On Fulcher’s part, he’s entering a race with a better chance of winning.
David Leroy, the former Ada County prosecutor, attorney general and lieutenant governor who held Cecil Andrus nearly to a draw in the 1986 governor’s race, is already in, and he will be no pushover. He hasn’t run for major office for a long time, and when he ran for the first district seat in 1994, in a race he originally was expected to win, he lost to lesser-known Helen Chenoweth. But his campaigning skills seem unimpaired, he arrives with broad-based good will and a relatively blank slate as far as recent relationships and issues stances are concerned, and much of the establishment of the Idaho Republican Party may easily coalesce around him.
Despite all that, Fulcher would stand to be the insurgent in the race and one with a well-established campaign organization, and those are powerful factors. Leroy is having to begin the effort nearly from scratch; starting early helps, but he’ll be running against someone who’s been in the field much earlier, since 2013. And Fulcher’s base of support statewide is strongest in Canyon and western Ada counties; a first district run demographically plays to his strengths.
Fulcher’s departure from the governor’s race, meanwhile, helps Labrador. In that race, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little will share a support base with Leroy, while Labrador, Fulcher and to some extent businessman Tommy Ahlquist were splitting the non-establishment side of the party. One less cut of that part of the pie means a bigger slice for Labrador and maybe Ahlquist, but especially, probably, Labrador. Ahlquist will be going after (not entirely but to a great extent) the people who like the idea of a non-politician in the governor’s race, and both Labrador and Fulcher are established politicians. (No offense intended: They simply have run for office, between them, quite a few times at this point.) Labrador’s new candidacy was impaired, to some degree, by Fulcher’s competition.
Which raises a question about the first district. Since both Leroy and Fulcher are established political figures, might we see a newcomer - someone playing something like the Donald Trump role - entering that race, to pick up the same kind of support Ahlquist may be seeking in the gubernatorial?
It’s early enough in the process that we shouldn’t be surprised if someone does.
In 2014 the Idaho Republican Party split cleanly, in its primary contests, between the inside, established, candidates, and the outside insurgents - it was two slates just short of official in nature. Will we see a reprise of that in 2018 - or might we see, this time, a three-way split?
The Fulcher shift brings such questions into much clearer focus.