BOISE – With just three weeks left before Idaho’s primary election, GOP gubernatorial challenger Russ Fulcher has released his first statewide campaign commercial and posted billboards around the state – but incumbent Gov. Butch Otter hasn’t.
“We have not put any TV up yet, no,” said Jayson Ronk, Otter’s campaign manager. Asked if the Otter campaign will hit the airwaves between now and the primary, Ronk said, “Oh yes.”
But Otter’s been running a low-key race as he seeks a third term as governor, leaving Fulcher, the Idaho Senate’s GOP majority caucus chairman, to face off with fringe candidates Harley Brown and Walter Bayes at candidate forums around the state.
Otter has agreed to just one debate with Fulcher and the other two candidates, which will air statewide on Idaho Public Television on May 14. The primary election is May 20.
China Gum, Fulcher’s campaign manager, said, “If Russ Fulcher’s legacy was the legacy that the governor has, then he probably wouldn’t want to get out in front of the people and answer questions too.”
Ronk said, “We’ve got a full campaign plan that we intend to execute.”
Fulcher’s been critical of Otter’s move to establish a state-based health insurance exchange, the issue that prompted him to challenge the governor in the GOP primary. He’s also been outspoken about opposing new Common Core standards for what children should learn each year in school, though he initially voted for the standards in 2011; Otter supports them.
Brown and Bayes both have run for office before without getting many votes; Brown has run for offices ranging from mayor to Congress, saying God has called him to become president of the United States; and Bayes expounds a sharp anti-abortion message.
Fulcher complains that Otter is ducking him; Otter has responded that he’s busy governing. Though he hinted for more than a year that he’d seek a third term, Otter didn’t formally announce his re-election bid until April 1, when he made appearances in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and Meridian. Fulcher announced five months ago.
Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and longtime observer of Idaho politics, said it’s a common strategy for a well-known incumbent to essentially ignore his opponent, “not giving exposure to his under-funded challenger.” That kind of “rose-garden strategy” can pay off if a challenger simply remains unknown.
But Weatherby said he’s surprised Idahoans haven’t heard more from both candidates, and long before now. The winner of the GOP primary likely will face Democrat A.J. Balukoff in November; he faces just token opposition in the Democratic primary.
Gum said Fulcher’s new commercial is intended to introduce the candidate to the people of Idaho, as part of a multi-pronged strategy. “On a larger scale, he’s logged 17,000 miles on his truck since he announced, traveling around the state, speaking with different groups of people, so this is just another leg of that stool, in a broader outreach,” she said.
The spot started airing today, and is running statewide, including on cable TV in North Idaho.