BOISE – Idaho’s contentious primary election last month left GOP leaders calling for unity in the state’s largest political party. But just who should lead that effort will likely be determined by a three-way race for the party’s chairmanship.
Hundreds of Idaho Republican delegates will flock to Moscow, Idaho, and elect a chairman on June 14 at the GOP convention.
Numerous names have been thrown out as possible candidates, including outgoing state schools superintendent Tom Luna and failed gubernatorial GOP candidate Russ Fulcher, but only three names have emerged as top challengers.
They are current party chairman Barry Peterson, who has held the seat since 2012; Blackfoot sheep-breeder Mike Duff; and Premier Technology President Doug Sayer.
Peterson is seeking a second term despite failing to secure an endorsement from Gov. Butch Otter.
“The opportunity to serve has been an education and I hope that I will be more refined in promoting the member resolve on political issues,” Peterson said in an email.
This year’s primary election evolved into a heated contest over control of the Idaho Republican Party, pitting establishment candidates against tea party favorites. Traditional GOP candidates won the majority of statewide elected offices, while tea party candidates for the Legislature strengthened their hold in the northern half of the state.
Following the May primary, Fulcher – who lost to Otter by a slim margin – was believed to be a top candidate for state party chair. However, he now says it’s not likely that he will pursue the position.
“If I run and win, there’s still a perception that the party is divided,” Fulcher said. “At this stage, I would rather support Peterson.”
Fulcher said the list of candidates is dwindling but more contenders could emerge closer to the convention.
“It’s going to be a fluid process,” he said.
Calling himself the bridge between Otter and Peterson, Duff said he’s running for state chair because he has had experience uniting Idaho’s Republican Party when it split in the 1990s.
Duff is GOP chairman in legislative District 31 in eastern Idaho. He ran in a four-way GOP primary in 2012 for an open House seat and finished last. He is also a lobbyist for United Families of Idaho.
“If we were to select the current incumbent for another term, we will get the same thing for the next two years,” Duff said. “You can’t unify the party with a chairman who is divisive. … I have been found to be faithful and true by both sides and can be trusted by both sides.”
A third prospect also hails from Blackfoot. Doug Sayer, brother of Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer, said he’s running because he also feels compelled to help unite the party.
Sayer is considered a traditional establishment Republican, whom Otter praised in 2013 in his annual state of the state address as a business leader in Idaho.
Sayer deflected answering questions about the party’s divisions and instead stressed that he wanted to focus on supporting GOP candidates and making sure all voices are represented in the party platform.
“I really do want to make a difference,” he said. “I don’t want to be caught up in the controversy.”