Capitol & State

Is the field in the Idaho governor’s race about to get smaller? Eyes are on Russ Fulcher

Behind-the-scenes jockeying among the four leading Republican candidates for Idaho governor might prompt a change to that lineup this week, with one declared candidate opting out.

Speculation is focused on whether Russ Fulcher, a former state senator who announced his candidacy last August, will stay in the race, run for a different office or not run at all. Asked about it Tuesday, he said he was trying to “broker some form of cooperation” with the other candidates.

He declined to explain what that meant, but added: “There are still a lot of moving parts. We’re going to make a final call on what we do tomorrow.”

“I know there is a ton of rumors flying out there, but I can also tell you that nobody knows for sure,” he said.

As confirmation, the candidate’s website promised “a big announcement coming” at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday. But with the Wednesday morning shooting of a congressman and several others outside Washington, D.C., Fulcher announced that he would postpone the announcement until Thursday.

In the current scenario, the political fates are not kind to Fulcher. The dynamic that could lead to his exit was set in motion last month when U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador officially entered the race, joining Fulcher, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and businessman Tommy Ahlquist. Boise resident Lisa Marie has also filed on the Republican line.

Fulcher and Labrador, political allies and friends before they were rival office-seekers, share a political base. Fulcher ran unsuccessfully for governor against Butch Otter in 2014 after four terms in the state Senate. He’s worked in the private sector since, while at the same time Labrador’s stature and name recognition, as a nationally recognized leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, have only increased. Under the ruthlessly efficient political calculus, that makes Labrador the potentially stronger candidate.

What does Fulcher do then? With Labrador vacating his 1st Congressional District seat, the political handicappers suggest that Fulcher might leave the governor’s race to run for Congress. There is one Republican candidate in that race so far, former Lt. Gov. and Attorney General David Leroy.

Another possibility for Fulcher: the race for lieutenant governor, which already has five announced Republican candidates.

“There are four very politically strong candidates in this gubernatorial race, but each of us has a different style and a different set of priorities,” Fulcher said. “For the most part we get along and we know each other.”

Stay tuned.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @DentzerNews