Capitol & State

Is Raúl Labrador running for Idaho governor? We’ll all be the first to know

Rep. Raúl Labrador has a second town hall meeting in the Treasure Valley on Monday to follow up his epic three-hour appearance in Meridian. Maybe there, amid another volley of questions about President Donald Trump’s travel and tax returns, health care reform, a possible government shutdown, immigration policy and the like, he’ll get to the question that’s really on everyone’s minds.

Is he running for governor in 2018?

The topic came up only briefly Wednesday at the Meridian Middle School auditorium, where the fourth-term congressman held forth in a stamina-testing appearance before a mostly unsympathetic but not overly unruly crowd.

Unlike some of his congressional peers who have gotten flustered and flubbed appearances before angry hometown audiences, Labrador kept it together and avoided any gaffes — if not a little controversy.

Earlier in the day Wednesday, at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, he told Statesman local news editor Bill Manny and attendees that he “may have already decided” on whether to run. The Statesman would be the first to know, he said — along with everyone else.

Labrador’s not in a rush and doesn’t have to be, enjoying that comfortable position of leading candidate-yet-to-announce. He’s inevitably part of any conversation about the race — initially, next year’s Republican primary — and enjoys the benefits of pent-up demand while he continues to demur. It’s like being a lesser member of a wedding party: You’re in all the photos but not paying for the whole affair.

Officially, the timing of any announcement from Labrador remains a vague “sooner, not later.” He has said he would wait through at least the first 100 days of the new administration, and a premature entry into the race, only months after starting his new term, might seem crassly opportunistic.

There is a downside to waiting. Lt. Gov. Brad Little announced his candidacy 10 months ago, former state Sen. Russ Fulcher last August, and Boise real estate developer Tommy Ahlquist in March. Labrador can’t raise money or officially seek support until he formally files the paperwork to run.

It’s not likely he’ll shed any more light on his plans in Nampa on Monday or at additional town hall events he is planning for North Idaho next month. He handles these events well and in fact likely benefits when he faces a crowd that, like the Meridian audience, mostly doesn’t support him.

The people he encountered there, mostly from the center-and-leftward swath of the political spectrum, aren’t the conservative voters he’ll need to court in what is now a closed Republican primary. That latter group is a bloc to whom Labrador only further endears himself when he spars publicly with the opposition and comes away, at worst, with a draw.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @DentzerNews

Town hall Monday

U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador’s town hall meeting in Nampa is at the Mission Aviation Fellowship, 112 N. Pilatus Lane, starting at 6:30 p.m.