Sen. Russ Fulcher says Gov. Butch Otter is afraid to defend his "shallow record" and is limiting their give-and-take to a single debate on Idaho Public Television.
Speaking to about 100 people at an Ada County Republican Central Committee forum Tuesday night, Fulcher urged Otter's supporters to "encourage him to engage. You deserve to hear from your governor, not just me."
Fulcher appeared at four forums in the past week - Ada County Republican Women in Boise, Madison County Republicans in Rexburg, Southern Idaho Republican Women in Twin Falls, and Tuesday's event - that Otter skipped.
"I do believe the governor is conscious about the fact he's got a shallow record," Fulcher told the Statesman after his 10-minute talk. "He does not want to have to be in a public forum where he has to defend it."
Otter replied on Wednesday that the two have appeared at 21 Lincoln Day banquets since February. "In fact," he said, "got one tonight, got two more this weekend. I got a full-time job. He duddn't."
The final Lincoln Days are in Payette, Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint. Lincoln Days are fundraisers for county Republican parties. Candidates typically make brief remarks, sometimes as little as one minute. Some allow questions, but there is no formal back-and-forth between candidates.
"I think the people of Idaho at least deserve to hear that exchange - for my sake, for his sake, for the state's sake," Fulcher said.
And what of Otter's assessment of Fulcher's employment? Fulcher's campaign spokeswoman, China Gum, said Fulcher continues to sell real estate during the campaign while also maintaining his part-time Senate duties.
"He's a husband, a father with two kids in college," Gum said. "He's providing for his family. He's doing all of it."
FRINGE CANDIDATES IN SPOTLIGHT
Otter declined Wednesday to reply further to Fulcher's charges.
But on Monday, the governor acknowledged following a conventional path trod by incumbents. Asked why he wouldn't share the stage with Fulcher in Twin Falls that night, Otter told the Statesman: "Because he's the challenger."
Asked about a second proposed debate on KTVB -Channel 7, Otter chuckled and said, "We must have had a scheduling conflict."
Another Fulcher complaint: With Otter a frequent no-show, Fulcher has been appearing with two perennial fringe candidates, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes, who Fulcher said are not serious contenders. In 2010, Brown received 4 percent of the vote for 1st District Congress; Bayes got 3 percent running for governor.
In order to agree to the single Idaho Public TV debate, Otter required that Brown and Bayes be invited. "That was the condition the governor requested," said Idaho Public TV's Melissa Davlin, the debate moderator.
The sponsors - Public TV, the League of Women Voters and Idaho Press Club - normally vet candidates to see whether they meet standards for viable campaigns. They did not do so in the governor's race because of Otter's requirement, one he has successfully applied in past debates.
"This is the only statewide broadcast debate for the governor's race, so we thought it was important to accommodate what we could," Davlin said.
Brown, who appeared at the recent forums in Rexburg, Twin Falls and one of the two in Boise, said he doesn't begrudge Otter his limited appearances.
"I believe Butch Otter is an honorable man," Brown said. "I don't share Fulcher's view he's purposely avoiding these campaign appearances."
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics