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Batt’s Silence Speaks Political Volumes Governor’s Timing On Possible Re-Election Attempt Keeping Some Contenders Out Of The Race

Gov. Phil Batt says he’ll announce in mid-September whether he’ll seek a second term. But some politicians think by waiting so long to make it official, Batt already has made it clear he will run.

That’s why House Speaker Michael Simpson, a fellow Republican who has worked the last couple of years building a power base for a possible gubernatorial bid next year, has decided against entering the race - even if Batt does not.

“It’s too late to put together a campaign,” the Blackfoot dentist said. “Were he to say tomorrow that he is not running, the only effective way to put together a campaign would be to resign from the Legislature. And I don’t want to do that.”

Simpson, who is winding up his third term as the top officer of the Idaho House, believes Batt will run.

“I’m encouraging him to do it,” he said. It’s still more than 14 months to the next general election, but just nine months until the May 26 primary. Traditionally, people planning to run for governor or the U.S. Senate are building their campaign by the middle of the preceding year.

Nobody is out there actively campaigning for either Batt’s job or Republican Dirk Kempthorne’s U.S. Senate seat. Simpson thinks there are no potential gubernatorial candidates in the wings because people believe Batt will run again.

For Simpson, his decision to stand pat means an end to more than two years of traveling to countless local GOP events, building support among the party faithful for a possible statewide campaign.

“I’ve gone to an awful lot of Lincoln Day banquets. I have turned down few speaking engagements,” he said.

Simpson plans to run for re-election to the House next year, serve the term to complete eight years as House speaker and then sit out the 2000 election. He will be 52 in 2002, and plans to use his two-year hiatus from public office to put himself in position to run for governor.

The downside to that strategy? He will not have a public office to use as a platform. But he vows to stay active in party politics to try to offset that.

“You have to find a way to keep yourself involved,” Simpson said.

That strategy worked perfectly for Batt. He retired from the Idaho Senate but was elected state party chairman in 1991 and served two years in that position, helping Republicans rebound from an uncharacteristically poor showing in the 1990 election. He announced for the GOP nomination in 1994.

Simpson said he’s 90 percent convinced Batt will seek a second term. One reason is that Batt, as a faithful Republican, would not keep potential GOP successors at bay this late unless he planned to run again.

“I don’t think Phil would leave it up to the last second. He of all people knows how hard it is to put together a campaign,” Simpson says.

There could be another scenario. Maybe Batt and the other Republican leaders have made secret deals for an heir apparent to be handed the nomination. Those mentioned most often are Kempthorne and 2nd District U.S. Rep. Michael Crapo.

Simpson doesn’t think Batt’s made any such deals.

“That isn’t Phil’s style,” he said.

The speaker would have run for governor in 1994 if Batt hadn’t gotten into the race. He did some preliminary campaigning but dropped out once Batt announced he was in.

“Philosophically, Phil Batt and I are pretty close. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to stay in the race,” he said.

There’s another reason Simpson is convinced Batt is going to run for a second term: the back surgery the 70-year-old governor had several months ago.

Since then, Simpson says, “He enjoys the job a whole lot more.”