Blackfoot sheep-breeder Mike Duff says he may be able to settle a row between two cowboys — Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson — by running to replace Peterson after the May 20 primary.
“I am discussing being a candidate,” said Duff, citing “disappointing fundraising” by the party and a fractured organization. “I’m the mechanic that makes the car race.”
Duff managed Helen Chenoweth’s underdog 1994 campaign that captured the GOP nomination over David Leroy and Pat McMurray and then ousted two-term Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco.
Duff said he would be faithful to whomever wins the gubernatorial primary, whether it’s Gov. Otter or Sen. Russ Fulcher.
“If I’m elected chairman, my loyalty will be to the governor and every other Republican officerholder and to the party,” Duff said. “Barry is a very nice fellow, but our party has languished — and not just under Barry but under previous chairmen.”
Duff, 54, said he has informed both Otter and Peterson, who was elected in 2012, of his plans. Peterson is being challenged for his Mountain Home precinct committee post by former four-term GOP Sen. Tim Corder. Whatever the outcome, Peterson has said he will seek re-election at the June GOP convention in Moscow.
The long-rumored feud between Otter and Peterson broke into the open in the past week. A story in today’s Statesman chronicles their eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation over Peterson’s alleged tampering with two precinct committee candidates. Last week, the Statesman reported on a campaign by Otter allies to win control of the Idaho Republican Central Committee that will elect a chairman.
Duff said he’ll decide on running after the primary settles who will be voting. “The precinct committee races are going to be important, as are the primary contests” for statewide and legislative nominations, he said.
Duff declined comment on who’ll he vote for in the governor’s race because he does not want to take sides as he considers running for chairman.
But Duff said he wouldn’t oppose a sitting Republican, as Peterson did in today’s story when he said he preferred challenger C.T. “Chris” Troupis over three-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
“A person can be an Otter loyalist and a conservative,” Duff said. “The party chair’s job is to espouse our principles and elect Republicans and once they’re elected to highlight the good they’re doing in those offices.”
Duff said he opposes a move supported by some tea party and libertarian-minded Central Committee members to limit participation in the nomination process. Duff said he made the motion in the Rules Committee in June 2013 to reject a rule change that would have established a convention system to nominate candidates, as Utah has done. In 2010, 18-year U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett was denied ballot access at the Utah GOP convention, clearing the way for election of tea party candidate and now-Sen. Mike Lee.
“I’m a big proponent of our primary system,” Duff said. “I’m a grassroots Republican. I don’t have a personal fortune. I’m not an evil, greedy corporate fat cat. I’m what I call a stereotypical Idaho Republican. We like the primary model. It’s not the social and economic elites that are picking our candidates, it’s the people at the grassroots.”
Duff is GOP chairman in legislative District 31. In 2012, he finished last in a four-way GOP primary for an open House seat with 18 percent of the vote. The winner was Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot.
Duff raises purebred sheep as owner of Duff Land and Livestock. He has a few cattle, he said, and owns over 100 registered ewes. He also is a lobbyist for the United Families of Idaho. Duff helped lead the effort to enact the 2006 amendment to the Idaho Constitution banning civil unions and same-sex marriage.