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POLITICS: PennAve

That viral gubernatorial debate made Idaho a 'laughingstock,' says Idaho Governor Butch Otter's main challenger

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Politics,Betsy Woodruff,Idaho,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve

Not everybody loved the Idaho Republican gubernatorial debate that went viral on Thursday.

Numerous national media outlets were delighted by the event -- including The Washington Post, Gawker, BuzzFeed, and yours truly -- but state Sen. Russ Fulcher was not. Fulcher is incumbent Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's only serious challenger. There isn't great polling on the primary, but the contest has drawn GOP star power; Rep. Raul Labrador and Idaho Chooses Life have endorsed Fulcher, and Mitt Romney campaigned for Otter in March.

Dan Popkey, one of the debate's moderators, wrote in the Idaho Statesman that the governor insisted, as a condition of his participation, that colorful (and unserious) candidates Harley Brown and Walt Bayes be invited. And in a Slate podcast, moderator Melissa Davlin said that Brown and Bayes wouldn't have participated without the governor's insistence.

Fulcher was not amused by the debate. He put out a statement charging that Gov. Otter insisted on Brown and Bayes' participation to undermine the seriousness of the event and distract from substantive discussion. They didn’t meet the criteria for participation, he said, and only served to distract viewers from Otter’s gubernatorial career.

“Clearly, the governor wanted to take time away from me and minimize exposure to his failed record as governor,” Fulcher said. “Apparently, Gov. Otter is content to have Idaho be a laughing stock so long as it improves his chance of winning an election.”

At the end of the debate, Bayes — who earlier in the debate announced that he once shot an endangered species — shook hands with Otter and said, “Butch, I’d like to thank you for making it possible for me to be here tonight.”

Bayes then addressed the crowd: “He kinda insisted that me and this other un-normal person could be here tonight.”

Otter's campaign responded, "A statewide debate that excludes candidates is an exercise in elitism. If some candidates don’t meet your personal expectations, don’t vote for them. But if they qualify to be on the ballot, they should be able to participate in the process.”

The primary is on May 20.

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Betsy Woodruff

Political Writer
The Washington Examiner