If you are puzzled about what is, and is not, happening in the race to secure the Republican nomination for governor in 2018 you are not alone.
Different strategies are being utilized, but the presumed front-runner, First District congressman Raul Labrador, appears to be master-minding a much different campaign than his two primary rivals, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and doctor/developer Tommy Ahlquist.
First, it appears that Ahlquist, true to his promise to spend whatever it takes, has spent well over a million dollars and he will continue to spend at that high rate as he tries to buy his way into office.
Little, in the meantime, is collecting a significant amount himself, but is husbanding the money. It’s a good guess that when the time comes his campaign will, like Ahlquist’s, spend gobs of bucks on negative television ads as they attempt to redefine who Labrador is through negative attack ads. That’s one of the rewards for being perceived as the front runner at this juncture.
The three of them plus expected Democrat nominee, millionaire A. J. Balukoff, will quickly shatter the previous spending mark for a governor’s race.
Labrador has apparently chosen to lower his profile for awhile, which is a practical as well as a necessary decision. As a respected libertarian, hard conservative voice his views are sought out and there’s plenty of work to be done in D.C. while still running for governor. Thus, he is not appearing every where his two rivals are.
This may be a smart tactic for a frontrunner, but some observers speculate Labrador is not raising the funds he needs to raise as quickly and as easily as he may have previously thought it would be. Thus, he is lowering the profile as much out of necessity as out of the book of tactics.
Labrador is going to have to rely on the conservative Tea Party/Donald Trump base to write lots of smaller checks that will still keep him competitive. He appears to have conceded that the GOP establishment wing will split between Little and Ahlquist, but he’s not bothered by lack of support from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), the equivalent of a statewide chamber.
It makes I easier for him to portray himself as the champion of the little guy and the governor who will best protect the average guy from the predatory practices of big business.
The guess is he’ll have enough to counter the expected attack ads and still get his key messages out to Idahoans.
Conventional wisdom says this race will be decided by Second District voters. Each of the major Republican campaigns figures that they each have a fair claim to about a third of the First district vote.
Ahlquist has touted two key endorsements: that of former GOP (and fellow LDS member, as is Labrador) presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is expected to run for Senator Orrin Hatch’s seat when Hatch announces his retirement. Perhaps more important is the support of former Melaleuca vice president for government affairs Damon Watkins, who is also the Idaho GOP’s national committeeman.
People make a mistake, however, if they think this reflects billionaire Frank VanderSloot’s preference. The Melaleuca CEO reportedly has told friends he can live easily with either Ahlquist or Labrador.
Some pundits believe Labrador’s most pressing problem is the perception that he as governor would permit the Idaho National Laboratory INL) to take a proportionate budget cut as part of any national debt reduction plan. He said as much two years ago.
Others say this will reinforce his image as a fiscal conservative hawk who takes consistent stands on principle. It appears that Labrador has succeeded in carving out the far right most conservative side of the GOP knowing full well the GOP primary is designed to maximize their clout.
Little is betting that a lot more establishment Republicans will turn out and will opt for his steady hand. Labrador is quietly confident that the hard conservatives and the anti-establishment voters are in ascendency and he will emerge as the winner.
Both Little and Labrador will continue to work to make Ahlquist be the odd man out and the race to become by next May a two person face-off between them. Come late May we will know who was correct.