Capitol & State

Otter bruised in win over Fulcher

Retired Marine Brig. Gen. Walt Donovan shows Gov. Butch Otter a photo of his two Fords, both adorned with Otter campaign decals. Donovan was attending a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War.
Retired Marine Brig. Gen. Walt Donovan shows Gov. Butch Otter a photo of his two Fords, both adorned with Otter campaign decals. Donovan was attending a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War.

Gov. Butch Otter lost Idaho's three largest counties to Sen. Russ Fulcher in Tuesday's GOP primary and failed in four of his five attempts to oust disloyal Republican legislators.

Boise State political scientist Gary Moncrief called Otter's loss in his native Canyon County — Idaho's second largest — an "embarrassment."

With all but three of 942 precincts counted, Otter carried 51.3 percent of the vote to Fulcher's 43.6 percent.

"Otter did not receive an overwhelming endorsement from the party faithful," said Northwest Nazarene University's Steve Shaw. "Will this cause Otter to move to the right to try to placate the right-wing in his party?"

Otter also lost his adopted home county — Ada, the state's largest — and Kootenai, the third-largest. The governor won 35 of 44 counties, however, with other losses coming in Benewah, Clearwater, Idaho, Jefferson, Latah and Oneida.

Democrat A.J. Balukoff said Otter's showing demonstrates vulnerability.

"Gov. Otter's narrow primary win over a relatively unknown, extremist opponent affirms what I've been hearing as I travel all over Idaho," Balukoff said in a news release early Wednesday. "People like Butch well enough personally, but after almost 40 years as a career politician, it's time for him to retire to his ranch.

While Balukoff called his 65 percent to 35 percent win over Terry Kerr a landslide, the margin wasn't as large as expected over a former Republican who didn't campaign.

The Republican Governor's Association hailed Otter's 8-point win: “In Idaho, the economy is strong, government operates efficiently and opportunity abounds thanks to Governor Butch Otter’s principled, conservative leadership. Idaho Republicans have voiced their strong support for Governor Otter and the progress he has forged in the state, and four more years under his direction is exactly what Idaho needs to continue to grow and succeed. The Republican Governors Association is proud to support his re-election campaign.”

Unmentioned in the RGA statement was that Otter lost four of his five attempts to remove Fulcher loyalists from the Legislature — all in Kootenai County. Sen. Bob Nonini and Reps. Vito Barbieri, Kathy Sims, Ron Mendive beat back Otter-endorsed challengers from the GOP center.

Otter's one success was Abby Lee of Fruitland's impressive 56 percent to 44 percent win over six-term Sen. Monty Pearce of New Plymouth, who is chairman of the Senate Resource and Environment Committee.

Otter-backed incumbents who lost to challengers from the right included:

Senate Education Committee Chairman and seven-term Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, to Mary Souza, who won with 54 percent.

Seven-term Rep. George Eskridge of Dover to Sage Dixon, who won with 54 percent.

Freshman Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, a backer of Otter's state-run health exchange, to Eric Redman.

On another front — tragic outcomes for Statehouse reporters — 11-term Rep. Lenore Barrett, among the most quotable lawmakers in Idaho history, was defeated by Merrill Beyeler of Leadore. Barrett, R-Challis, chaired the House Local Government Committee. Beyeler carried 47 percent of the vote to Barrett's 34 percent in a three-way race.

GOP incumbents who held off challengers include:

Nine-term Sen. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint, with 54 percent of the vote over Danielle Ahrens.

Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d'Alene, another freshman loyal to Otter, with 53 percent over Toby Schindelbeck.

Two-term Rep. Shannon McMillan of Silverton with 63 percent over Shauna Hillman.

Freshman Rep. Robert Anderst of Nampa with 52 percent over Roger Hunt.

Freshman Sen. Fred Martin of Boise with 60 percent over Diego Rodriguez.

Three-term Rep. Jeff Thompson of Idaho Falls with 51 percent over Steve Yates.