Idaho’s debate draws chuckles, rebuke

In this image provided by Idaho Public Television, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, second right, appears on stage with Republican gubernatorial hopefuls, from left, Harley Brown, Walt Bayes, and state Sen. Russ Fulcher, at a debate Thursday May 15, 2014 in Boise, Idaho. Brown and Bayes stole the show from Otter and Fulcher, using their time to discuss Armageddon, discrimination against motorcycle clubs and problems with political correctness. (AP Photo/ Idaho Public Television, Jim Hadley)

Sen. Russ Fulcher said Gov. Butch Otter knew the inclusion of two fringe candidates would turn the Idaho GOP gubernatorial debate into a “circus” and is responsible for the “mockery of the Republican Party and of Idaho” as clips of Wednesday’s debate went viral Thursday and Friday.

“Apparently, Gov. Otter is content to have Idaho be a laughingstock so long as it improves his chance of winning an election,” Fulcher said.

YouTube featured a number of clips from the debate Friday, one of which had nearly 40,000 views.

Otter stood by his requiring Idaho Public Television to invite all four candidates as a condition of his appearance.

“A statewide debate that excludes candidates is an exercise in elitism,” Otter said. “If some candidates don’t meet your personal expectations, don’t vote for them.”

Otter’s insistence that perennial fringe candidates Harley Brown and Walt Bayes be invited also was noted on the “Today” television show on Friday, which drew “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston into the fun with a suggestion that he’d be a great fit for Idaho politics.

Co-host Al Roker introduced the segment saying, “So, political debates can be pretty dry — unless it’s a political debate involving the Republican candidates for governor in Idaho. Earlier this week, things got a little out of hand when two fringe contenders from ZZ Top stole the show.”

Roker’s reference was to the beards worn by Bayes and Brown. “Today” used Brown’s “It sucks,” and “turd in the punchbowl” clips and the Bayes claim that “half of the Republican Party is Democrats and half of the Democratic Party is communists.”

Also pictured was Otter, smiling broadly at the antics. Otter rejected all other face-to-face appearances with Fulcher.

As the “Today” panel laughed, Tamron Hall said, “That is not an SNL (Saturday Night Live) skit, by the way — actual candidates, actual live debate. And after watching this you can see why the still-sitting governor was all too happy to make them part of it.”

Co-host Matt Lauer introduced the last joke, referring to guest Bryan Cranston, who was on hand pitching his new film, “Godzilla.”

“Cranston just filed to run for governor of Idaho,” Lauer said.

“He’s shaking hands and kissing babies,” quipped Hall, as the camera cut to Cranston furiously pumping hands.

The debate clip used by “Today” came from a mashup produced by an editor at its Boise affiliate, Channel 7. Nick McMullin’s 2:19 clip helped spread the word Thursday morning and early afternoon. Ironically, McMullin was told by superiors in Boise to take the clip down over copyright concerns.

The McMullin clip lived on because it was picked up by LiveLeak, the source used by “Today.”

Meanwhile, debate moderator Melissa Davlin was hailed as “heroic” by Slate. In an interview Thursday with Mike Pesca, Davlin explained why the state-operated network agreed to Otter’s requirements regarding Bayes and Brown.

“They would not have otherwise met our requirements for the debate, which includes actively campaigning and appearing at different campaign events statewide,” Davlin said. “But because the governor insisted as a condition of his appearance in the debate, we went ahead and extended the invitation to Mr. Bayes and Mr. Brown because we felt it was important to put this debate on.”