Political question of the week in Boise seems to be: Will Raul Labrador run for governor?
There’s been a lot of presumption, even as Labrador has held off declaring one way or the other, that he will. He has expressed interest, and since the seat will be open, 2018 would be a time to move.
He may run for it; the decision, of course, is his exclusively. If he does, he’d certainly be a strong contender. But I sense a majority opinion now of political observers who would be less surprised if he passes than if he runs.
Here’s what I might say if I were offering friendly career political advice.
First, Labrador is relatively young (he’s 49) for positioning for the higher offices; not too young, of course, but young enough that he can and should consider more than just the next election cycle or two.
If he runs for governor, he might lose. Large-population primary contests in low-turnout elections can be highly unpredictable, and he would face a candidate with strong establishment support (Lieutenant Governor Brad Little), one who has been campaigning and developing support since 2013 (Russ Fulcher) and a wild card businessman (Tommy Ahlquist) who already has put a good deal of money into name-I.D. direct mail campaigns. I wouldn’t risk any betting money on a race like this. And you never know: Labrador has shown himself to be a smooth and competent campaigner, but people do make mistakes. Labrador got into the House in large part because a 2010 primary opponent made so many of them. And a loss in a gubernatorial race would cut into his political strength.
Labrador also could win; he would bring a significant base of support, and credibly could take the lead in the primary with it. He might serve as governor four years, or eight (12 is of course possible, as the incumbent shows, but unusual). He’d still have time to do something else in politics after that, but what? If you’re a retired governor in Idaho, your options – if you’re not ready to retire – may not seem that attractive after where you’ve been and what you’ve done. And of course, as governor, Labrador would get nowhere near the national attention he’s gotten up to now as a member of Congress.
He could be on a glide path to the top rung in politics short of the presidency. Odds are he could stay in the House and be re-elected easily for the next several terms. Word is that Senator Jim Risch is unlikely to run for a third term when his current one is up in 2020, and Senator Mike Crapo may not want to serve much longer. Idaho’s other House member, Mike Simpson, has passed on Senate options before. Labrador could slide right in from the U.S. House to the U.S. Senate, a position of larger impact and of elections only every six years.
Besides which, Labrador has not shown much of an interest in running things. The governorship is an executive job, and it might be a less comfortable fit with the kind of legislative mindset Labrador has developed. He wouldn’t be the first legislator-turned-executive to find that the two are quite different.
None of this is to say conclusively that Labrador won’t run for governor. He alone will decide that, and if that’s what he really wants, if nothing else will do, then he can go for it.
But the long pause in signalling his intentions does seem suggestive of second thoughts.