Election Central

Idaho GOP chairman: anti-Obama sentiment will drive busiest primary season in decades

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson predicts discontent with President Obama will prompt an unusually large number of GOP candidates to file in the 2014 elections, from congressional and statewide races to county commissioner and other local offices.

“People are going to say, ‘By God, we’re going to do something,’” Peterson said. “Obama’s behavior and know-it-all positions and lack of real credentials for what he claims to be — I think all of that inspires people of a different ilk to say, ‘By darn, I’m going to do something now.’”

Peterson, 66, added, “I believe it’s going to be the most active primary season in decades — in my lifetime, in fact. It appears to me to be unbounded. I think it’ll not only happen on that end (in three contests for Congress and seven constitutional offices, including governor), I think it’ll happen in county races. There just seems to be more energy and more interest and people are caught up in it. I get millions of emails and I’m satisfied with two a day.”

I spoke with Peterson last week shortly after he’d driven from Boise to his home in Mountain Home, listening to radio coverage of Obama’s battling with congressional Republicans over the government shutdown and debt ceiling.

“Listening to him has put me in a mood to fight,” said Peterson, a former Elmore County commissioner.

I asked if he thought Gov. Otter would get a challenge from the GOP’s tea party wing, as eight-term GOP Congressman Mike Simpson has from Idaho Falls lawyer Bryan Smith. The Smith-Simpson race is setting up as the most expensive primary in Idaho history.

“I don’t know, but there’s no doubt but what there’s a certain energy in the air,” Peterson replied. “Who knows what’ll happen. If Bryan Smith’s willing to run against an long-serving incumbent like Mike Simpson I’d say anything can happen.”

Peterson said the divide between the tea party and establishment wings leaves plenty of room for robust disagreement in the May primary. Republicans hold all four congressional seats, all seven constitutional offices and 85 of 105 seats in the Legislature.

“The beauty of it is that our party has such a big tent that we can cover both extremes of the debate on any given issue,” Peterson said. “So nobody should get away with saying we’re not the big-tent party in Idaho. I welcome it. I’m happy to see it. The more choices people have, the better our government will be.”

Last month, Peterson said the Elmore County GOP Central Committee discussed the rules for endorsing candidates in primaries, but took no votes. Smith appeared before Elmore County Republicans in July and has advocates on the Central Committee including state Rep. Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home.

Peterson said he aims to keep his own feelings out of Smith-Simpson. Smith, who calls himself “the real conservative” in the race, is urging Simpson to stand with tea party Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah to use the budget and debt ceiling issues to defund the president’s Affordable Care Act.

“I am conservative, I know I am conservative, the world knows I’m conservative,” Peterson said. “But it’s my purpose, my intent, to be absolutely as fair as I possibly can and try to be as even-handed in all my appearances as I can be. But certainly I have an opinion. When you have one person, it’s easy to be loyal. When you have two people, you’re naturally pulled to one more than the other.”

So, I asked, do you support Smith?

“I’m not going to say,” he replied. “I am willing to admit that I am drawn to one candidate more than another, but I’m not going to tell you who it is.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics