Elections

Idaho GOP: 'It is time to unite. Too much is at stake to sit on the sidelines'

Flanked by both successful and unsuccessful Republican candidates in the primary, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Republican candidate for governor, addresses supporters at the May 17, 2018, GOP unity rally at the State Capitol.
Flanked by both successful and unsuccessful Republican candidates in the primary, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Republican candidate for governor, addresses supporters at the May 17, 2018, GOP unity rally at the State Capitol. kjones@Idaho Statesman

After a fractured and contentious primary election that, in some races, devolved into a knock-down, drag-out mudfight, the Idaho GOP says it is getting the team back together.

Some of the state's Republican leaders gathered on the Capitol steps Thursday morning to send out a message of reconciliation and reunification of the party.

“We have to rally as a team to be sure that in November we continue to keep Idaho as that bastion of limited government, republican governance and success,” said Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

Little battled it out with Congressman Raul Labrador and businessman Tommy Ahlquist to be the GOP nominee to replace Gov. Butch Otter, who is retiring after three terms.

Little will face Democrat Paulette Jordan in November's general election.

“Primary elections are just hard. They are hard," said congressional nominee and former state Sen. Russ Fulcher, who in 2014 stood on the other side of the podium when he lost the GOP gubernatorial primary to Otter. This time he was the winner in the GOP 1st District race to replace Rep. Labrador.

"Everything is charged with emotion and opponents from the same team engage with passion. And then we are challenged to come together and support the prevailing side," Fulcher said.

If any election year is going to bring change to Idaho, it is this one.

“This year, Idaho enters a whole new era with representation that is changing. Representation in the governor’s office, congressional office, treasurer’s office, many legislative seats. Folks, there is going to be a large turnover here,” said Fulcher, referring to the open seats up for election this year.

Fulcher will face the Democratic nominee, Cristina McNeil, in November.

This year, 13 of the Legislature’s 105 lawmakers did not seek re-election, and six incumbent GOP lawmakers lost their primaries on Tuesday, meaning at least 20 percent of the Legislature in January will be new faces.

“This is a once-in-a-generation election that I must caution you, as fellow Republicans, we must not take for granted,” said Idaho Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Parker. “It is time to unite. Too much is at stake to sit on the sidelines.”

And the sports analogies continued.

"The primary process is a team-building process. It is deciding who is going to be on that team. And the coaches have now spoken, " said Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, uncontested in a primary. "That does not mean all the other people who tried out to be on the team are not equally as important as the ones who got selected. But we have selected the team now, and we are going to go forward.”

Idaho already has a new state treasurer, Julie Ellsworth, who won a three-way GOP primary and has no challengers in November.

Nearly all of the winners of GOP primaries for statewide offices spoke at the rally.

Gov. Otter; Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who had no primary challenger; and lieutenant governor nominee Janice McGeachin, who won a hard-fought five-way race, were unable to attend due to prior commitments.

“I know the numbers were very tight on our race,” quipped incumbent State Controller Brandon Woolf, who was unopposed in his primary and does not face any challengers in the November general election.

“As sports analogies have been the theme of the day, I want to share one.

“During spring training we played against each other. This spring we have been hitting each other. We have been tackling and hitting and sometime little skirmishes. The spring training is over now, and it is time to go hit another team.”

Little thanked his two main opponents, who stood behind him on the Capitol steps during the rally attended by about 75 people.

“Congressman Labrador, thank you for your service representing Idaho in Congress. Thank you for representing conservative values and all of the work you have done for Idaho,” Little said. “Dr. Ahlquist, thank you for bringing a new dynamism to the dialogue that we had on the campaign trail, and I look forward to your advice and counsel going forward.”

Labrador, who gave up his congressional seat to run for governor, told reporters after the event that he does not know his future plans.

“We will figure it out,” said Labrador, who was accompanied by his wife, Rebecca. “We are doing great. We are happy. We have a strong family. I just became a grandfather. I have wonderful children. I have a beautiful wife. Life is good.”

When asked about his relationship now with the Republican Party and Little and Ahlquist, Labrador responded: “It’s always good. You always have that inner-family squabble, but you are still a family and you have got to work together.”

Cynthia Sewell is Idaho Statesman's government and watchdog reporter. Contact her at (208) 377-6428, csewell@idahostatesman.com or @CynthiaSewell on Twitter.
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