Idaho Rep. Labrador's gubernatorial plans are done for

Raul Labrador's 2014 gubernatorial plans are done for, says Dan Popkey. The congressman's latest campaign report speaks volumes and looks to spare Otter a challenge.

July 17, 2013 

Put a fork in it. Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador's new report to the Federal Election Commission sends a strong signal that his flirtation with a May 2014 primary race against two-term Gov. Butch Otter is over.

Labrador raised $69,123 in the second quarter, just more than one-fifth of that collected by Idaho GOP Congressman Mike Simpson and less than half of Simpson's primary challenger, Bryan Smith.

Two weeks ago, Labrador missed his self-imposed deadline on a decision on the race, saying, "I hope to announce a decision within the next couple of months."

I can't figure out why he's delaying the inevitable. For anyone reading the FEC report he filed late Monday, he need not wait. The normally accessible Labrador declined my request for comment.

Here's why I think it's clear that Labrador has put his ambition to be governor on hold:

1. His anemic fundraising is consistent with what promises to be an easy re-election campaign for the House. No Republican or Democrat has announced.

Shortly after he won 31 percent of the vote to Labrador's 63 percent in November, Democrat Jimmy Farris said he planned to run again. But Farris, a former NFL player, appears to have recalculated. He filed a termination report with the FEC on July 6, digging into his own pocket to close his campaign books and pay $600 to his campaign manager, David Scheppler.

On the GOP side, no credible alternative has said a peep about trying to challenge Labrador.

2. Labrador's contributions included $10,000 from the Freedom Fund, the leadership political action committee of Idaho's senior lawmaker, GOP Sen. Mike Crapo. There's simply no way Crapo would have made the contributions - $5,000 for the 2014 primary and $5,000 for the 2014 general election - without believing that Labrador would run for re-election rather than dog Otter.

Crapo is deeply conservative in temperament and never would encourage upset of the GOP order with what would surely be a bloody primary. Crapo also has been Otter's friend for a quarter-century.

Another signal from the list of contributors is the $2,500 from Idaho State Board of Education President Milford Terrell, an Otter appointee and friend.

Terrell, a tough inside puncher, wouldn't have made the contribution if there was the slightest chance Labrador was serious about a rumble with Otter. Terrell gave Otter $1,000 for his 2006 governor's race and $2,750 for 2010. In 2010, he initially contributed $2,000 to Labrador's primary opponent, Vaughn Ward, but after Labrador beat Ward, Terrell gave Labrador $2,000. In 2012, Terrell gave Labrador $2,500.

3. Labrador's ambition is tempered by smarts. At 45, he has plenty of time to run for governor. He's enjoyed the attention, fueled by his tea party friends, but a race against Otter would be trading a re-election glide for a tough, uphill climb that could end in a crash and joblessness. A gubernatorial run also would require justifying his 2012 vote to cut thousands of jobs at the Idaho National Laboratory by trimming the nuclear energy budget by two-thirds.

Labrador also has sent other signals, co-sponsoring a re-election fundraiser for Otter in Washington, D.C., and cancelling two appearances on the GOP Lincoln Day circuit in Eastern Idaho.

4. Labrador continues to pay his wife to operate his congressional re-election bid. Rebecca Labrador received $6,045 between April and June. As a stickler for ethical spending, how could he justify taking money from contributors and returning it to his own household if he didn't plan on staying in Congress?

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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