Idaho Republican Congressman Raul Labrador’s new campaign finance report sends a strong signal that the sophomore lawmaker’s flirtation with a 2014 challenge to two-term Gov. Butch Otter is over.
Labrador raised just $69,123 in the second quarter, just over one-fifth of that raised by Idaho GOP Congressman Mike Simpson and less than half of Simpson’s primary challenger, Bryan Smith.
Two weeks ago, Labrador missed his self-imposed deadline on a decision to take on Otter, saying, “I hope to announce a decision within the next couple of months.”
Having just read his report filed late Monday with the Federal Election Commission I can’t figure out why he’s delaying the inevitable. But here are four reasons I think Labrador’s ambitions to be governor have been put on hold:
First, his anemic fundraising is consistent with what looks to be an easy re-election campaign for the House. No Republican or Democrat has announced.
Shortly after he won 31 percent of the vote to Labrador’s 63 percent in November, Democrat Jimmy Farris said he planned to run again. But Farris, a former NFL player, appears to have recalculated the odds: He filed a termination report with the FEC, digging into his own pocket to close his campaign books and pay $600 to his campaign manager, David Scheppler.
Second, Labrador’s contributions included $10,000 from the Freedom Fund, the leadership political action committee of Idaho’s senior lawmaker, GOP Sen. Mike Crapo. There’s simply no way Crapo would have made the contributions — $5,000 for the 2014 primary and $5,000 for the 2014 general – without believing that Labrador would run for re-election rather than challenge Otter. Crapo is deeply conservative in temperament and would never encourage Labrador to upset the GOP order with what would surely be a bloody primary. Crapo also has been Otter’s friend for a quarter century.
Another signal from the list of contributors is the $2,500 Labrador received from Idaho State Board of Education President Milford Terrell, an Otter appointee and friend. Terrell, a tough inside puncher, wouldn’t have made the contribution if there was the slightest chance Labrador was serious about a rumble with Otter. Terrell gave Otter $1,000 for his 2006 governor’s race and $2,750 for 2010. In 2010, he initially contributed $2,000 to Labrador’s primary opponent, Vaughn Ward, but after Labrador upset Ward, Terrell gave Labrador $2,000. In 2012, Terrell gave Labrador $2,500.
Third, Labrador’s a smart man, who at 45 knows he has plenty of time to run for governor. He’s enjoyed the attention, fueled by his tea party friends, but a challenge to Otter would be trading a glide to re-election for a tough, uphill climb. Labrador has also sent other signals, cosponsoring a re-election fundraiser for Otter in Washington, D.C., and cancelling two appearances on the GOP Lincoln Day circuit in Eastern Idaho.
Finally, Labrador continues to pay his wife to operate his congressional re-election bid. Rebecca Labrador received $6,045 between April and June. As a stickler for ethical spending, how could he justify taking money from contributors and returning it to his own household if he wasn’t planning to stay in Congress?
I’ve asked to speak to Labrador today. His spokesman, Todd Winer, said he’s working on it. I’ll update should I hear back.