CHUCK MALLOY: Little hopes ‘native’ card plays in his favor

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The gubernatorial primary election campaign, no doubt, will get nasty before it’s over as Republican candidates scramble for support from fewer than 20 percent of eligible voters who traditionally bother to vote in a primary election.

It’s a bit odd to see Lt. Gov. Brad Little — the most mild-mannered of the three candidates — firing off one of the early negative shots.

Little claims that outside interests are spending “big money” on his opponents. “The problem with them is that these guys don’t know Idaho. My opponents don’t know what Idaho needs. They don’t know what YOU want. And with all that Big money rolling into their campaigns, they’re listening more and more to (Washington) D.C. people — not real Idahoans like you.”

Little’s opponents, Congressman Raul Labrador and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist, will take exception to those comments. Labrador, who traditionally rejects PAC donations, has served Idaho’s First District since 2011 and his actions have reflected the conservative nature of his district. Ahlquist, a developer and former emergency room doctor, has talked to enough real people — and not just politicians — to get a flavor of what Idahoans want.

But Little’s comments are in line with what his supporters have been saying all along — that Ahlquist has zero government experience and Labrador’s right-wing agenda is dangerous for the state. Little is hoping that his Idaho roots will be the difference-maker in this campaign. He says he doesn’t need a publicized “tour” of Idaho’s 44 counties to discover what Idahoans want.

“I’m the only one who was born in Idaho, was educated in our public schools, and has lived and worked here all my life,” he said in another fund-raising mailer. “As I travel our magnificent state and talk with people, they say that’s a point in my favor, and I think they’re right.”

Well … he probably is right, at least in some rural areas. Gov. Butch Otter didn’t win three terms as governor on issues alone. In rural Idaho, and especially the Magic Valley, Otter was viewed as “one of us.” Little, a longtime Emmett rancher, stands to capitalize on that sentiment. We’ll see if that’s enough for him to win, given the continued influx of people moving to the Gem State from California and other states.

But don’t knock Little for playing the “native” card. He’s the only one of the three who has it.

The candidates recently received some major endorsements. Ahlquist got the nod from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon icon in some quarters; Labrador received a boost from Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. The high-profile surrogates make convincing pitches for their candidates.

“As a former governor, I can tell you that Tommy is uniquely suited to bring new ideas and a fresh approach to leading Idaho as the next governor,” Romney said of Ahlquist. “Tommy … is a conservative’s conservative. He’s going to take conservative principles to fix the schools. He’s going to take conservative principles to make regulation work for enterprises to create more jobs. He’s going to take conservative principles from his home to the people of the state.”

Cruz, who Labrador supported in last year’s presidential primary, had equally strong words for Labrador. “I’ve worked closely with Raul Labrador over the past few years to advance conservative policies for our country and I can tell you he is one of the most effective, dedicated, and honest men I have known. His fierce commitment to conservative values, his respect for our Constitution, and his pledge to making government accountable to the people will make him a great governor.”

The best endorsement Little could come up with in response was Bill Butticci, the Gem County Commission chairman and former mayor of Emmett, where Little was born and raised.

“I have never run for president of the United States, but I am a conservative Idahoan, and from my vantage point, no one else is better suited to be governor than Brad Little,” Butticci said.

Little, naturally, would rather have the backing of someone from his hometown than two losing presidential candidates. He can only hope there are enough native Idahoans around who will agree with him.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a Silver Valley native and longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.

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