BOISE – The Republican Governors Association launched an attack ad in Idaho on Wednesday against A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, decrying him as “a typical politician” and “wrong for Idaho.”
The description is “very wide of the mark, and a script written by somebody who apparently doesn’t know the state or A.J. Balukoff very well,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics.
Balukoff, a Boise businessman who’s prone to wearing bow ties, has served 17 years as an unpaid, elected member of the Boise School Board, but other than that has never held political office. He’s running against one of Idaho’s longest-serving politicians, GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who’s held public office since the 1970s.
“People complain about negative ads, but they are effective and they do influence people’s votes,” Weatherby said. “This negative ad, however, starts out with a characterization of A.J. Balukoff that I suspect a lot of Idahoans would know is inaccurate. He is far from being a typical politician.”
The governors association, which also is running ads against Democratic candidates for governor in several other states including Hawaii and Kansas, made an ad buy in Idaho “in the six-figure range,” according to spokesman Jon Thompson. The Idaho ad is running statewide on cable and broadcast TV, but is not running in the pricey Spokane broadcast TV market.
Otter is seeking a third term as Idaho governor; if he succeeds, he’d be only the second Idaho governor in history elected to three consecutive terms. Balukoff has challenged Otter’s record on education and the economy; he’s cited his work as school board chairman in the Boise School District, one of the state’s best-performing districts, and as a businessman who owns major pieces of Boise’s downtown, including a portion of its Idaho Steelheads hockey team.
The ad attempts to paint Balukoff as a politician who just wants to raise taxes, making several claims that are exaggerated, out of context or just plain wrong about Balukoff’s positions. It debuts as national pundits have suggested Idaho’s governor’s race is in play, despite big leads for Otter in earlier polls.
“The insertion of money from the national party clearly demonstrates that the Washington, D.C., power base of the national GOP recognizes that Butch Otter is in danger of losing the governor’s office,” said Mike Lanza, spokesman for Balukoff’s campaign.
This week, Politico dubbed the race a “wild card” in a story on states where incumbent governors could lose. Two weeks ago, the “Sabato Crystal Ball,” the respected election analysis and forecasting site operated by University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato, moved Idaho’s governor’s race from the “safe Republican” category to “likely Republican,” citing divisions among Idaho Republicans, Otter’s less-than-stellar 51 percent win in the GOP primary and Balukoff’s “deep pockets.”
Balukoff has been running his own political ads, including in the Spokane market, but so far, they’ve all been positive ads, touting him rather than attacking Otter. The Republican Governors Association is the second independent group to run an attack ad against Balukoff. Earlier, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry funded an ad attempting to tie Balukoff to President Barack Obama and brand him a liberal.
Balukoff, who wasn’t affiliated with either party before he decided to run for governor as a Democrat, says he voted for Mitt Romney for president in 2012.
“It is interesting, and makes you wonder what is going on here,” Weatherby said. “Balukoff looked like a long shot, but now they’re bringing out heavy guns taking direct aim at his campaign. … He’s certainly getting attention here, and might stimulate some more donations to his campaign – including from himself.”
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