A challenge to Idaho Republican Chairman Barry Peterson by Blackfoot business owner Doug Sayer represents "money elite interests," and Sayer's election would sharply depress turnout in the GOP's tea party wing, said Mike Duff, the third candidate for chairman.
"If they choose the faction Doug represents, they're going to watch 35 to 40 percent of the Republican base stay home in November," Duff said Tuesday as he made his final push toward Saturday's state convention vote in Moscow.
Sayer, a GOP state committeeman in Bannock County, is co-founder of Blackfoot-based Premier Technology, which employs 300 people who make equipment for the nuclear, food, chemical and aeronautics industries.
Gov. Butch Otter has not made an endorsement, but Sayer, a former board member of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, has emerged as the establishment candidate.
Sayer, 51, accompanied Otter on his 2010 trade mission to China. His older brother, Jeff, is Otter's commerce director.
Sayer won support Monday from two key lawmakers with credibility across the GOP spectrum - House Majority Leader Mike Moyle and Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway.
"Doug Sayer is a candidate all Republicans will be able to support as party chairman," Moyle said. "I know he is a solid conservative who is dedicated to providing the leadership our party requires now more than ever if we are to be successful in November."
Sayer has served on a series of business and technology advisory boards and is currently a director of IGEM, the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission, which awards state grants for higher education and business development. But he says he isn't relying on his connections with the Otter administration.
"I don't want to be the guy who got elected because he had a relationship with somebody," Sayer said. "I want to be chosen because of my professional skills and leadership ability."
HURT THEM BOTH
Duff calls himself the "bridge candidate" who can span the party's ideological divide. He managed the late-U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage's first winning campaign for Congress, in 1994, and has remained active in the party.
Duff said Peterson has been ineffective in his two years, overseeing administrative, fundraising and organizational shortfalls. "It's been failure after failure after failure," said Duff, 54, who raises sheep for breeding in Blackfoot.
"I am independent of the two factions and can credibly work to unite the party. I know what it takes to beat Democrats."
Peterson, 66, of Mountain Home, has clashed with Otter over the closed GOP primary, something Otter wants repealed.
Peterson declined comment Tuesday. "I think I'd rather take a pass," he said.
Duff said that supporters of both Peterson and Sayer have asked him to withdraw, arguing that he'll cost one or the other the support necessary to qualify for a second ballot should no candidate get more than 50 percent in the first vote.
"I want to hurt both of them," Duff said. "I want to win this election and be the bridge candidate that's going to bring everybody together."
Duff, who finished fourth in a four-way race for the Idaho House in Bingham County in 2012, says his ambitions for elected office are over. But he claims Sayer has his eye on high office. "This is his debutante ball," Duff said.
Sayer acknowledged having been urged to consider elected office but said his aim is to heal a divided party.
"I want to be in a position where I can have a positive influence," Sayer said. "And I think that this chairmanship is that opportunity."
Sayer has produced a sophisticated campaign flier and said he's been speaking by phone with many of the 644 delegates. He says he'll focus on management, marketing and raising money. Earlier this year, Sayer said, Otter suggested that he consider becoming the state party's finance chairman.
Though he wouldn't name them, Duff said "credible sources" indicate that Sayer has been telling people privately that he's "the governor's man." Otter campaign spokesman Jayson Ronk reiterated Tuesday that Otter hasn't made an endorsement.
"Either they're involved in the old plausible deniability game or somebody's lying," Duff said.
Sayer said he's spoken to Otter, but, "I didn't ask him for his support."
Sayer also has spoken to members of the Idaho congressional delegation and GOP legislative leaders. "I've not asked for their endorsement; I've asked they endorse the person that's selected as chairman," he said.
State Sen. Russ Fulcher, who lost in the primary election to Otter on May 20, said Sayer phoned him last weekend.
Fulcher said he remains loyal to Peterson but welcomed Sayer's courtesy. "I've got nothing negative to say about Doug Sayer," Fulcher said. "I respect him."
Duff also phoned shortly after the primary. "All three of them have the party's best interests in mind," Fulcher said. "So we'll see what happens."
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics