BOISE – Republican legislators rejecting their party’s incumbent governor for Tuesday’s primary election now face a powerful obstacle in their re-election bids.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has endorsed candidates in 22 legislative primary races – including five challengers to current GOP incumbents, four of them from North Idaho.
“I have an agreement with the majority leadership in both the House and the Senate,” Otter said. “I will stay out of those contested races where there’s an incumbent, with the exception that if that incumbent has endorsed my opponent, I am free.”
All five have endorsed Meridian state Sen. Russ Fulcher in the Republican primary over Otter. Some of them have held fundraisers or gatherings for Fulcher.
“I think that frees me up,” Otter said.
The Republican incumbents with opponents endorsed by Otter are Sens. Bob Nonini, of Coeur d’Alene, and Monty Pearce, of New Plymouth, and Reps. Vito Barbieri, of Dalton Gardens, and Kathy Sims and Ron Mendive, both of Coeur d’Alene.
The endorsements in Idaho’s Tuesday primary election arrive amid deep divisions in the state’s Republican Party. U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, for example, waded into state-level politics by endorsing all four of the North Idaho incumbents whose challengers have Otter’s backing.
“They’ve held true to their campaign promises and have voted the way their constituents wanted,” Labrador said.
Labrador also made waves this week by endorsing Fulcher over Otter.
Otter said the challengers he’s endorsing are better candidates. He praised Patrick Whalen, the Post Falls high-tech entrepreneur who’s running against Nonini, for his vision of economic development and education.
“I appreciate Pat’s philosophy of lower taxes, smaller government and better schools,” Otter said.
Nonini, the former House Education Committee chairman who’s seeking a second term in the Senate, said Thursday, “I have not supported Otter’s seven-plus years of failed leadership. I was adamantly opposed to welcoming Obamacare into Idaho and, alongside then-state Rep. Labrador, I helped defeat the governor’s attempt in the depth of our recession to raise the gas tax on all Idahoans. Idaho is no better off today than it was when he became governor.”
That kind of high-profile split among elected members of the same party has become something of a hallmark in this year’s Idaho GOP primary election. It’s the second-ever Idaho GOP primary that will be closed to anyone other than registered Republicans, a move Otter opposed.
Otter has endorsed 14 GOP legislative incumbents in the primary, including Sens. Shawn Keough, of Sandpoint, and John Goedde, of Coeur d’Alene, and Reps. George Eskridge, of Dover, Ed Morse, of Hayden, and Luke Malek, of Coeur d’Alene. He’s backing Stephen Snedden, an attorney and former Sandpoint city councilman, in the three-way GOP contest for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; and Greg Gfeller, an Avista executive who’s in a three-way GOP race to replace retiring Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.
Statewide, Otter’s highest-profile endorsement is for Abby Lee, who is running against Pearce, the Senate resources chairman.
Pearce, an eight-term senator, has raised $13,000 for his re-election campaign since January. Lee has raised more than $36,000, nearly all of it from individuals in the southwestern Idaho district.