Labrador cancels GOP stops in east Idaho, raising doubts about 2014 race

Insurgent 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador cancelled two appearances on the GOP’s Lincoln Day circuit last weekend, an obligatory pilgrimage for aspiring statewide candidates. The events would have raised Labrador’s profile in eastern Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District, where he is not as well known as in his western and northern Idaho district.

Coupled with Labrador’s co-hosting of a fundraiser for Gov. Butch Otter’s re-election campaign Monday in Washington, D.C., the cancellations are another signal that Labrador may be shying from challenging Otter in the May 2014 Republican primary. Last month, Labrador told a standing-room-only crowd at a town hall meeting in Meridian that he is humbled by the many suggestions from supporters to run and that he would decide by mid-year.

Labrador, in his second term, was expected at the Bannock County Lincoln Day Banquet on Friday and the Bingham County luncheon Saturday, organizers said. Congress was in recess last week and Labrador was at his Eagle home over the weekend.

“Yeah, he did confirm to be there at one point,” said Bannock County GOP Chairman Jordan Cheirrett. “Then I got a phone call saying something came up.”

That call came from Jake Ball, Labrador’s district director.

I asked to speak with Labrador or have Ball explain whether his boss is backing away from challenging Otter. Ball’s reply: “No comment.” On Saturday, Ball’s answer regarding the Otter fundraiser was more substantial, saying Labrador hadn’t made up his mind about 2014 and that he was focusing on the country’s fiscal crisis and immigration reform.

In Bingham County, Lincoln Day co-chair Rori Christensen said she was excited to have Labrador on the bill. “He was about 95 percent sure he was going to make it,” Christensen said. “It was a letdown.”

Christensen said she spoke with Labrador’s scheduler in Washington, D.C., Mike Cunnington, a former campaign staffer for the congressman.

Both Christensen and Cheirrett said they admire Labrador, but declined comment on who they would prefer as their party’s nominee for governor in 2014.

Christensen said she quizzed Cunnington about Labrador’s plans for 2014. “I asked him directly,” she said. “He said he had no comment on that.”

This weekend’s Lincoln Day circuit is again in the 2nd District, with stops in Hailey, Burley and Twin Falls. GOP officials overseeing those three events said they have not heard that Labrador will attend. Otter, who missed last weekend’s events because he was at a National Governor’s Association meeting in Washington, D.C., is expected to be in the Magic Valley.

Last year, Labrador appeared at at least two Lincoln Day events in the 2nd District, which is represented by 8-term GOP Congressman Mike Simpson. The two have sharply differed on budget issues, with Labrador voting against the continuation of the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class last month because the bill raised taxes on individuals making over $400,000. Simpson supported the bill, which passed with significant Democratic support.

Simpson is a strong supporter of Otter, who would be the first governor since Republican Bob Smylie in 1962 to seek a third consecutive term. Otter will turn 72 before the 2014 primary.



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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