Idaho’s open gubernatorial race is right around the corner in 2018.
The Idaho Republican Party will have a competitive primary in May next year with three strong contenders: 1) Lt. Gov. Brad Little, 2) Rep. Raul Labrador, and 3) Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist.
And, let’s not forget that A.J. Balukoff, who put in over $3 million of his own money, is moving forward on the Democratic side.
The conventional wisdom, for the Republican race, has been that Labrador is the front-runner because of his high visibility in Congress. Little is widely known for his role at Gov. Otter’s side. And, Ahlquist is the guy with the deep pockets and lots of early organizing activity. Both Little and Ahlquist have been active fundraisers with Labrador trailing considerably in that department.
The last round of polling showed Labrador leading Little by a bit with Ahlquist coming up the rear. Rumor is that Ahlquist has moved up since. The next round of public numbers will be informative.
There may be more than the conventional narrative has captured to this point.
Last week Little released some details connected with his personal finances. The key number is that he has assets of $12 million to $24 million --- with no debt. That was a bit of surprise. He has always been known as well off but not nearly to that degree.
That significant net worth means that Little has the capability to stand toe-to-toe with Ahlquist in terms of personal financing of his campaign . . . if he chooses to do so.
That potential could upend the race.
Consider a conceivable scenario where both Ahlquist and Little dominate the race on air and online, squeezing out Labrador’s ability to get his own message out.
And, either has the ability at any time to nuke Labrador with a massive negative barrage.
That doesn’t take into account other groups. Already, reports are flying of so-called Super PAC groups that might support at least two of the gubernatorial candidates, Labrador and Ahlquist.
Either Ahlquist or Little can operate independently of any such groups because of their resources. And, if they are attacked they can respond aggressively and powerfully with the resources controlled by their campaign.
But, Labrador is in a much tougher spot. If his fundraising does not ramp up significantly his campaign is likely to be left with a fraction of the resources of his main opponents. A friendly Super PAC might help to some degree. But such groups carry risk when they do things inconsistent with campaign’s messaging or become the story itself.
The biggest danger to Labrador is that someone attacks him early. He would be hard pressed right now to respond adequately through advertising. If he is still near the front of the polling at the first of the year, he is likely to face incoming fire. If not dealt with adequately, he is likely to fall back.
I am comfortable in predicting that the 2018 campaign for Idaho governor will set a new state spending record. Right now I would guess it is on course to be a $10-15 million race. It could easily blow past that point. Expect to see tons of TV, radio, print and online ads from all of the candidates starting in the next couple of months.