POLITICS: Campaigns

Idaho Democratic candidate listed as Republican in 2008

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Associated Press,2014 Elections,Campaigns

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Democrats' choice to run for governor was listed as a Republican five years ago.

In 2008, Anthony Joseph "A.J." Balukoff was named as a GOP backer of then-U.S. House candidate Walt Minnick. Balukoff was among 60 "Republicans for Minnick" during the Democrat's successful run against Bill Sali.

In an Aug. 28, 2008, email from Minnick's campaign, Balukoff's name was featured at the top of the informal group that had "supported the Republican Party with time, with money and with votes."

"And we will continue to do so in this election and in elections to come," the message said.

Balukoff, who has given thousands of dollars in campaign dollars to Republicans and Democrats, said the equal opportunity giving fits his philosophy of putting the candidate before party.

Balukoff said he has never registered as a Republican and has not aligned specifically with either party.

"I've tried to be very clear on this from the start," Balukoff said Friday. "There will be some staunch Democrats who won't be pleased, I'm sure. I look at candidates and think about what each has to offer in terms of experience, background and competence.

Larry Kenck, Idaho Democratic chairman, said he's discussed party allegiances with Balukoff and is convinced Balukoff is a Democrat with an independent streak.

"As I've been talking with A.J., along these lines, when he was deciding whether he was going to run or not, he really ... impressed on me that he had been an independent style of thinker," Kenck said. "But as the years went on, he realized his overall philosophies aligned much more with Democrats than it did with any of the other parties."

According to election records, Balukoff didn't vote in 2012's closed primary, the first time Idaho voters were required to choose an affiliation before picking party candidates.

In 2010, Democratic candidate Keith Allred's campaign strategy included distancing himself from the labels that traditionally accompany both parties.

It was unsuccessful: Otter won nearly two-thirds of the popular vote, Allred a third.

Though Balukoff's political pedigree also appears to blur partisan lines, Kenck said he believes the 67-year-old candidate will ignite the Democratic base in a way that Allred didn't.

"There's no doubt in my mind," Kenck said. "He's a solid, true style of Democrat, and that's where his administration will be when he's elected."

Minnick, beaten in 2010 by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and now a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, said Balukoff's political lineage, however winding, reflects a pragmatic, nonpartisan approach irrespective of labels he may have applied to himself.

"I was a Republican once, but when the party ceased being pro-conservation, pro-human rights and got taken over by the shut-down-the-government, tea party nuts, I became a Democrat," Minnick said. "And I suspect the same sort of things motivated A.J."

Jim Weatherby, a political science professor emeritus at Boise State University, said Balukoff's past Republican leanings might hurt him among activist Democrats suspicious of whether he really supports their goals. But the GOP credentials could help him peel off Republican voters in November's general election.

"A Democrat, in order to be successful in Idaho, needs to reach out to a lot of Republican votes," Weatherby said.

Balukoff announced his candidacy Tuesday and so far has no Democratic rival in May's primary.

If he wins, he'll face the victor in the Republican primary that now features Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and state Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridian.

Asked about Balukoff's ties to the Republican Party, Otter campaign manager Jayson Ronk suggested his Democratic run reflects uncertainty about his guiding political philosophy.

Fulcher's campaign spokeswoman, China Gum, didn't comment Friday, saying she wanted to speak with Fulcher first.

Balukoff is an accountant and the Boise School Board chairman. He also co-owns Boise's Grove Hotel, the CenturyLink Arena and the Idaho Steelheads minor league hockey team.

After pledging future Republican support during the 2008 race, Balukoff in the email joins other self-described GOP adherents in praising Minnick over Sali, who was jettisoned from Congress after one term.

"This race is not about party labels — it is about what is right for Idaho," the email said.

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