GOP Gov. Butch Otter had a good laugh at the expense of reporters who crested Freezeout Hill before sunrise Wednesday to hear Lt. Gov. Brad Little offer the low-grade news that hell seek re-election.
Four TV crews and three newspaper reporters were part of a crowd of about 150 that included two curious former Democratic Party officials. Despite Otters repeated statements that hes running for a third term next year, the gaggle grew because there was fresh speculation that he would retire to make way for Little.
The 7:30 a.m. breakfast at Emmetts City Park rekindled the rumor for four reasons: Otter was labeled as special guest; Littles media advisory was silent about what office he would seek; his new campaign logo simply says Little for Idaho, omitting any mention of office; and he was kicking off a 19-city, two-week statewide tour, an unprecedented effort for a part-time $31,100 job.
When Otter arrived, he congratulated Jason Lehosit, a Little consultant who has worked for Otter.
You guys have done a helluva job getting all this media out here this early in the morning, Otter said.
You know why theyre here? replied Lehosit. They expected you to hand over the baton.
Retelling the tale afterward, Otter said, You cant kill a rumor like that, no matter what you do.
Otter laughed at KBOI-TVs Scott Logan, who grumbled during Littles announcement that the event was much ado about nothing and later asked Otter if it was political theater.
Otter and Little wore nearly identical outfits cowboy boots, blue blazers and khaki slacks. Only their shirts were of a different hue. But consummation of their alleged conspiracy will have to wait. Otter correctly pointed out that neither he nor Little have even hinted about changing the guard.
If he let some air out of your tires, I dont know how to respond to that, Otter told Logan. You guys have found more black helicopters per capita in our media than in any state in the union!
Little good-naturedly resisted tipping his hand before taking the stage. Its a surprise. I dont want you guys leaving early, he said.
On Tuesday, I wrote that Little would be taunted for overkill for engaging in such an ambitious launch if he only runs for re-election. Still, I congratulate him on advancing his five-year effort to raise his profile. Little, 59, is well-positioned to replace Otter, 71, whether thats by succeeding to office or by winning in his own right in 2018.
Otter says he intends to complete his term should he win in 2014.
Im healthy as a horse, Otter said. I have no reason to believe that I will not complete the four years.
Well, one reason: Otter is pretty close to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, he said, who could very easily be the GOP presidential nominee in 2016, halfway through Otters gubernatorial term. Otter reminded reporters he was on short lists for appointment by a prospective President Romney for U.S. trade representative and secretary of the Interior.
Christie is heavily favored for re-election as governor in November.
I would expect after the election that there would be an opportunity to sit down with Chris to talk about 2016 presidential race, Otter said.
The only thing Little has contributed to the rumor is that hes consistently said hes prepared to step up when Otter moves on.
He did a solid job Wednesday, speaking with genuine emotion about his gratitude to the hometown crowd. Its very humbling for me to see my classmates, my friends, my family this morning, he said. And its also good to be kicking off this campaign here where Teresa and I raised our family.
The crowd ate up a spontaneous moment when Little asked the oldest of his three grandchildren 3-year-old Henry to wave and the kid winningly obliged. He minds like that all the time, quipped Little.
Little also met his goal of keeping his speech under 10 minutes. Hed been up late practicing and it paid off. Coming in at nine minutes, Little avoided the meandering that often gums up his formal talks.
He spoke eloquently about investing in education to build a modern economy.
I vividly remember Dad admonishing me, likely when I was not meeting his and Mothers scholastic expectations: Son, one thing they can never take away from you is a good education.
Education beginning with parents mentoring and reading to their children, followed by a strong, valued public education system is essential for our future. A quality education is a constitutional obligation our state must fulfill.
The announcement drew other top Republicans, including Controller Brandon Woolf, Sens. Steve Thayn of Emmett and Fred Martin of Boise, Rep. Terry Gestrin of Donnelly and at least four former lawmakers.
No opponent in either party has announced against Little, prompting a wisecrack from Martin about Littles preparations: Brad has to campaign that much harder because he has such a strong opponent.
Seriously, Martin said, Littles aggressive start makes a challenge, most likely from the GOPs tea party wing, problematic. Hes showing support early, Martin said.
Little also acknowledged engaging in a dry run for the top job in 2018.
When we get through this well have a lot better idea whether or not we want to go to the big dance, he said.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics