For many outsiders, the Republican “Lincoln Days” appear as a time for political party folks to get together and celebrate their founder – President Abraham Lincoln.
But in an election year, it’s also a series of “dress rehearsals” by candidates running for office. If you don’t know, Lincoln Days are party functions put on by different Idaho county GOP central committees.
I’ve always considered Gem County’s Lincoln Day the most important of all the Lincoln Days. First, Gem County is far enough from Ada and Canyon counties to allow people to get out of the “Boise bubble,” able to talk issues affecting the rural parts of our state.
Second, because it’s still close enough to Ada (and Canyon) counties, people can get a sense of how prepared and robust the candidates’ campaigns are, given that the campaign teams and their supporters try to put on a good show. Finally, the folks out of Gem County always offer a substantive, yet relaxed, Lincoln Day. Candidates can kind of “let their hair down,” displaying how they feel their campaigns are going.
Following is a quick analysis from my observations of the gubernatorial candidates from the Gem County Lincoln Day in 2018.
Labrador: Fire in the Belly. Labrador demonstrated a sense of purpose, seriousness, and “fire in the belly” not seen since his announcement for governor. This is due to a few things. First, Congress topped off a turbulent first year with a big win on the tax cut. That would be a relief to Labrador because, despite all his hard work, the reputation of Congress remained low due to its inability to pass major legislation. New voters could ask what he’s done due to the inaction of the institution he serves.
Second, internal squabbles among Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration likely created problems for the Labrador campaign to move beyond its base. Thus, even though he showed success when it came to issues like immigration, this got overshadowed by party strife.
Third, the angst supporters had over Labrador running for governor and Fulcher running for Congress appears over. This was seen by the energy and volume of applause both Labrador and Fulcher got when they spoke – each based on his own message.
Recommendation: The Labrador campaign needs to “keep going bold.” It needs to build on its tax initiative with a serious look at economic development and job creation in agriculture, along with healthcare, education, and the budget. It should watch not to box itself in, but rather show a comprehensive approach that gives its base fuel and attracts Twin Falls County and East Idaho.
Ahlquist: Need for a Second Act. The Ahlquist campaign appears out of steam. Ahlquist’s speech was a re-hash of previous remarks. It offered nothing new or special. More importantly, it lacks a “second act.” For some months, my argument has been that at some point, the Ahlquist campaign is going to discover that “money no longer buys it love.” Tommy Ahlquist has been pouring on the spending and visits around the state, outpacing his opponents. The move was necessary to build name recognition. But, there is a lack of credibility. This is due both to continued uncertainty and some slip-ups by the campaign.
Recommendation: Tommy Ahlquist needs key people to endorse his campaign to demonstrate to enough conservative and mainstream Republicans that he is a credible conservative. This is his “second act.” He also needs to show confidence that he has the stature to be governor. He should resurrect his “blueprint” and wear it. Finally, he must stay consistent on his positions. It is worse for a candidate to change his/her mind than to stick to a less than perfect position.
Little: The Vision Thing. The Little campaign continues to take off, shifting from first to second gear, and then never quite seems to get to third gear. That is going to hurt it, given Labrador’s new sense of purpose and if Ahlquist pours it on again. Little has been offering new initiatives, but these need to be tied to a larger vision.
The Little campaign faces the biggest challenge of all the candidates: Being lieutenant governor to a popular and likable governor in a “strong governor” state. He has to balance not wanting to criticize the sitting governor while arguing the need for improvement. Then, the Little campaign has to make the case the lieutenant governor is the best candidate for that job. A vision would answer a question dogging the Little campaign, why does the lieutenant governor want to be governor? I would contend the Little campaign has not yet answered this question.
Recommendation: Do a statewide tour of every county in Idaho. Fulcher set this precedent in 2014 - and if he had another 30 days, he likely would have won. Ahlquist followed with his own tour. The Little campaign should have the tour include a local event based on a local theme that ties to a statewide vision. It must be led by one of his local campaign leaders, but where the lieutenant governor is shown with the local campaign leader. That would tie a highly diverse state to a single vision. The lieutenant governor has a lot of experience and a strong network throughout the state. His campaign needs to show its own vision for Idaho’s future.