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Eye On Boise

Rep. Labrador stumps for Trump across the country

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador speaks at a Trump rally in Orlando, Fla.
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador speaks at a Trump rally in Orlando, Fla.

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By Betsy Z. Russell

Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador is criss-crossing the country stumping for Donald Trump, speaking at Trump rallies so far in Florida, Arizona and Utah.

Labrador’s high-profile national role in the Trump campaign comes despite his lukewarm support for the GOP nominee, whom Labrador, who earlier supported Rand Paul and then Ted Cruz, has said “wasn’t even in my top 16.”

After meeting Trump along with other House and Senate Republicans in July, Labrador said, “I’m not a huge fan.” In mid-October Labrador told the Idaho Statesman, “I had to choose between two what I consider to be not very good choices.” But Labrador also issued a written statement, saying, “Right now Hillary Clinton is a greater threat to our national well-being than Donald Trump.”

On Wednesday in Miami, Labrador was an introductory speaker for Trump, and spoke for three and a half minutes, according to the Washington Post. “I’m here because what we need to do in this election is we need to elect somebody that can believe and does believe in the American Dream,” Labrador told the crowd.

After sharing his personal story about how he grew up in Puerto Rico, Labrador told the rally, “I need you to do everything you can for the next seven days to make America great again.”

Layne Bangerter, director of the Trump campaign in Idaho and a senior policy advisor to the campaign for the west, said, “We have a Hispanic western congressman from Idaho and we think it’s wonderful. And if he can be an asset to the campaign, which he surely is, we’re glad that he’s freeing up some of his time.”

Bangerter said he first asked Labrador, on short notice, to appear at a Salt Lake City rally with Trump running mate Mike Pence on Oct. 27. “He went – he wanted to do that right away,” Bangerter said. Other warm-up speakers at that Salt Lake rally included Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and Utah GOP Chairman James Evans, Bangerter said.

“He just had a powerful message, and they loved him,” Bangerter said of Labrador. “He’s fully supportive. He’s just trying to show his support.”

That appearance led to invitations to appear with Donald Trump Jr. at three events in Arizona, including a “millennial rally” with Trump Jr. at Arizona State University, where Labrador introduced the younger Trump. “He did a great job, he introduced Junior,” Bangerter said. “I took him to two other functions there, and he just does a great job.”

Then, Labrador joined Trump himself for rallies in Florida both Wednesday and Thursday. Bangerter said he didn’t know what was next on the schedule, but some news reports suggested Labrador will next appear in the battleground state of Ohio, where Trump has a rally scheduled Friday.

Labrador is currently running for a fourth term in the U.S. House representing Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, which includes North Idaho; he’s also been publicly mulling a run for governor of Idaho in 2018.

Labrador’s Democratic opponent, James Piotrowski, has decried the Idaho congressman for leaving the state in the final weeks of the campaign, rather than campaigning in his district. At a candidate forum in Cascade last Thursday, Piotrowski participated along with “Pro-Life,” formerly known as Marvin Richardson, who’s running against Labrador as a write-in candidate, but Labrador was in Salt Lake City.

“He’s more concerned about national politics than he is about the people of Idaho or the 1st District,” Piotrowski said. “He wants to go out and play on that big national stage, ignoring the fact that there are real problems crying out for solutions right here in Idaho.”

Labrador’s campaign said in a statement, “Consistent with his promise to help all Republicans at every level of government, Raul Labrador will take every opportunity to build the Republican Party, both at home in Idaho and across the country. Idahoans must do everything they can to stop the political elite from conducting business as usual in Washington and Boise.”

Bangerter said, “He’s very popular, he’s going to be re-elected, and he’s doing what his constituents would want him to do, too. … He obviously sees this as something his constituents want him doing, and we do – we want him out there.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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