Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch announced last Wednesday he will run for re-election to Idaho's No. 2 executive post, leaving no challenger to Congressman Butch Otter in the Republican primary for governor. This creates a potentially fascinating situation that has State Democrats wondering: Will it be simply Jerry Brady vs. Otter in a general election, with no serious primary at all? Or is there another motive behind the move?
Maria Weeg, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, thinks Risch may have been pressured to drop out. "The fact that Butch Otter has scared away even Jim Risch should scare us all," she said. "This is the part of the Republican machine that isn't often talked about in polite circles--the fact is that in top-of-the-ticket races, the candidates are preordained by a handful of Republican elites rather than the voters. It happened in 1996 when Phil Batt decided not to seek a second term, and it's happening again now."
Another theory on Risch's move is that if Otter is elected governor, and his relationship with former House Republican leader Tom DeLay (which includes accepting questionable money from DeLay's ARMPAC, and a $500 contribution to DeLay's defense fund) gets uglier, Otter would eventually leave office. In that case, Lt. Governor Risch would take over as governor. "That sounds like Risch," laughed former Democratic chair A.K. Lienhart-Minnick. "He's always weighing the odds. He may think he has about as much chance as becoming governor that way as he would if he faced Butch in the primary. But frankly, pinpointing the whys and hows of Risch's thinking is impossible--which is probably why the Republicans would rather he didn't run."