Supporters of insurgent 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador's possible gubernatorial bid in 2014 should consider lowering their expectations.
Labrador canceled two appearances on the Republican Lincoln Day circuit last weekend, an obligatory pilgrimage for aspiring statewide candidates.
The events would have raised Labrador's profile in eastern Idaho's 2nd Congressional District, where he is not as well-known as in his western and northern Idaho district. If he was trying to do everything he could to challenge Gov. Butch Otter in the May 2014 primary, he would have been on the stump rather than with his family in Eagle.
Coupled with Labrador's co-hosting of a fundraiser for Otter's re-election campaign Monday in Washington, D.C., the cancellations signal that he might be shying from the risk of facing a well-funded, well-liked governor who has been in statewide or congressional office continuously since 1987.
Last month, Labrador told a fired-up standing-room-only crowd at a town hall meeting in Meridian that he felt humbled by the many supporters urging him to run and that he would decide by midyear.
Labrador, in his second term, was expected at the Bannock County Lincoln Day Banquet on Friday and the Bingham County luncheon Saturday, organizers said. Congress was in recess last week and Labrador was at his Eagle home.
"Yeah, he did confirm to be there at one point," said Bannock County GOP Chairman Jordan Cheirrett. "Then I got a phone call saying something came up."
That call came from Jake Ball, Labrador's district director.
Labrador "was about 95 percent sure" he would make it, said Bingham County Lincoln Day co-chairwoman Rori Christensen. "It was a letdown."
Christensen said she quizzed Mike Cunnington, Labrador's scheduler in Washington, about Labrador's plans for 2014. "He said he had no comment on that," she said.
I asked to speak with Labrador or have Ball answer whether his boss is backing away from challenging Otter. Ball's reply: "No comment." On Saturday, Ball's answer regarding the Otter fundraiser was more substantial. He said Labrador still had not made up his mind about 2014 and was focusing on the country's fiscal crisis and immigration reform.
My guess is that Labrador is weighing an almost sure re-election to the House against an expensive, brutal and uphill fight against Otter.
Both Christensen and Cheirrett said they admire Labrador, but they declined to name a preference for their party's nominee for governor in 2014.
This weekend's Lincoln Day circuit is again in the 2nd District, with stops in Hailey, Burley and Twin Falls. GOP officials overseeing the three events said they have not heard from Labrador. Otter, who missed last weekend's events because he was at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington, is expected to be there.
Last year, Labrador attended at least two Lincoln Day events in the 2nd District, which is represented by eight-term Republican Mike Simpson. The two have sharply differed on budget issues, with Labrador voting against continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class because the bill raised taxes on individuals making more than $400,000. Simpson supported the bill.
Simpson is a strong supporter of Otter, who would be the first governor since Republican Bob Smylie in 1962 to seek a third consecutive term. Otter will turn 72 before the 2014 primary.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics