Analysis: Otter bruised in win over Fulcher

Idaho Republican Chairman Barry Peterson talks with Gov. Butch Otter prior to a GOP Unity Rally on the steps of the Statehouse Wednesday May 21, 2014 following the primary election.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter lost Idaho’s three largest counties to Sen. Russ Fulcher in Tuesday’s GOP primary and failed in four of his five attempts to oust disloyal Republican legislators.

Boise State political scientist Gary Moncrief called Otter’s loss in his native Canyon County — Idaho’s second largest county — an “embarrassment.”

With all 942 state precincts counted, Otter carried 51.4 percent of the vote to Fulcher’s 43.6 percent.

“Otter did not receive an overwhelming endorsement from the party faithful,” Northwest Nazarene University’s Steve Shaw said. “Will this cause Otter to move to the right to try to placate the right-wing in his party?”

Otter also lost his adopted home county — Ada, the state’s largest — and Kootenai, the third-largest. The governor won 35 of 44 counties, however, with other losses coming in Benewah, Clearwater, Idaho, Jefferson, Latah and Oneida.

Democrat A.J. Balukoff said Otter’s showing demonstrates his vulnerability.

“Gov. Otter’s narrow primary win over a relatively unknown, extremist opponent affirms what I’ve been hearing as I travel all over Idaho,” Balukoff said in a Wednesday news release. “People like Butch well enough personally, but after almost 40 years as a career politician, it’s time for him to retire to his ranch.”

While Balukoff called his 65 percent to 35 percent win over Idaho Falls’ Terry Kerr a landslide, the margin wasn’t as large as expected over a former Republican who didn’t campaign.

The Republican Governor’s Association hailed Otter’s 8 percentage win.

“In Idaho, the economy is strong, government operates efficiently and opportunity abounds thanks to Governor Butch Otter’s principled, conservative leadership. Idaho Republicans have voiced their strong support for Governor Otter and the progress he has forged in the state, and four more years under his direction is exactly what Idaho needs to continue to grow and succeed. The Republican Governors Association is proud to support his re-election campaign.”

Unmentioned in the RGA statement was that Otter lost four of his five attempts to remove Fulcher loyalists from the Legislature — all in Kootenai County.

Sen. Bob Nonini and Reps. Vito Barbieri, Kathy Sims, Ron Mendive beat back Otter-endorsed challengers from the GOP center.

Otter’s one success was Abby Lee of Fruitland’s impressive 56 percent to 44 percent win over six-term Sen. Monty Pearce of New Plymouth, who is chairman of the Senate Resource and Environment Committee.

Otter-backed incumbents who lost to challengers from the right included:

n Senate Education Committee Chairman and seven-term Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, to Mary Souza, who won with 54 percent.

n Seven-term Rep. George Eskridge of Dover to Sage Dixon, who won with 54 percent.

n Freshman Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, a backer of Otter’s state-run health exchange, to Eric Redman.