Butch Otter survived a stiff challenge from state senator and grassroots candidate Russ Fulcher in the GOP Gubernatorial primary. True to their word, both Fulcher and Otter stood at the Capitol Steps the next day, shook hands, and vowed to work together to help the GOP retain the state’s top executive post. This promise extends only so far however. Otter’s victory was shall we say less than overwhelming as he took a meager 51% of the vote to Fulcher’s 43%. Fringe candidates took the rest of the vote.
Apparently, some of Otter’s transgressions are to much for some elements of those 43% to stand. Writing in the Idaho Statesman, conservative activist Doyle Beck, “Claims that reports of scandal after scandal and repeated allegations of cronyism against Otter are true and that Otter has lost his way.” Writing in a newspaper is one thing but forming a PAC is another. But wait, that has been done.
In March, the Integrity in Government PAC was formed and has raised thousands to, “Elect men and women with integrity to elected office in the state of Idaho.” Otter apparently is not one of them. More recently, the PAC raised a whopping $107,000 from nine big contributors in Utah, Wyoming and Eastern Idaho.
Fulcher ran strongest in North Idaho and Otter weakest. Thus, it is unsurprising to see the leadership of the new PAC hail from the area. Lee Ann Callear, the PAC’s chair, is an Idaho Republican Party executive committee member and Region 2 chairwoman. She formed the PAC with Doyle Beck of Idaho Falls, who is the Bonneville County Republican Party chairman, and several other Republican Executive Committee members.
The PAC outlines twelve serious grievances against Otter ranging from broken promises to failing to grow the economy to the most heinous sin; supporting Obamacare. Otter actively pushed the state exchange that was formed in 2013 against the wishes of the grassroots and the state GOP Executive Committee.
Having some elements of his party mad at the Governor certainly does not ensure his downfall. In 2010, in a crowded seven candidate field, Otter took a mere 54% of the vote but romped in the general election with 59% of the vote. Allegations of corruption and cronyism were rampant during the campaign against him and yet his field operation and money spoke far more than the allegations.
It likely will be the same again. Keep in mind Idaho is a very Republican state and even a weak GOP Gubernatorial candidate can defeat a strong Democratic candidate. It would take a significant fracturing of the GOP vote to allow Balukoff, the Democratic nominee, to even approach 50% to be competitive. It is unlikely the GOP party is that splintered despite its internal struggles.
First-0ff, 2010 offers us a case study in why. Using Otter’s 2010 primary vote totals from Ada County (58.7%) and Kootenai County (58.2%) and comparing it to Otter’s general election vote totals we find Otter really did not suffer from his subpar primary showing. Rather, Otter kept pace with his 2010 primary totals. In Ada he garnered 63,871 votes (52.7%) and in Kootenai 28,381 (67%) votes. Second, the national political environment is shaping up to be a bloodbath for Democrats and as in 2010 one can expect to see that filter down to Idaho. Decreased Democratic turnout in Sun Valley and urban Boise would doom Balukoff no matter what his campaign did to compensate. Lastly, while the grassroots of the GOP may not be behind Otter the rank and file certainly are. Expect the business community outside Boise to pitch in big for the Governor and his built in base of support in Eastern Idaho ensures he can afford a drop in support in Ada County or North Idaho.
So while Otter might have come out of the primary battered and bruised and the party divided, Otter remains in good shape for reelection thanks to the redness of Idaho, the political environment and the business community he has courted so well.