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.
Jim Hadley/Idaho Public Television/AP Photo

Our own very public Idaho

It’s not every day that an hour-long gubernatorial primary debate in Idaho goes viral, but this week’s event in Boise was … what’s the word … special.
Idaho’s GOP gubernatorial primary is, or was, the umpteenth proxy battle between normal, conservative Republicanism and hard-core Tea Party Republicanism. Gov. Butch Otter, a libertarian-minded two-termer, is running for his third term, and State Sen. Russ Fulcher is challenging him for – among other things – not doing his utmost to resist Obamacare. No less than Rep. Raul Labrador has endorsed Fulcher, and because there’s no good polling, until next Tuesday conservatives can hold out hope of the first-ever Tea Party upset of an incumbent governor.
In the meantime, they will have to settle for the televised debate between Otter, Fulcher … and two fringe candidates who met network guidelines.
The full hour is worth your time for entertainment value alone – warning: once you start watching this thing, it’s hard to stop – though I’m partial to the final five minutes when the candidates made their colorful closing remarks.
The novelty, of course, was seeing strange and eccentric candidates share the stage with a sitting governor – though in this case, they appeared at the governor’s insistence.

Indeed, as amusing as the debate was, the true genius was the strategy that led to the debate in the first place.
Incumbent Gov. Butch Otter (R) is already very conservative, and wasn’t especially interested in having a primary debate with state Sen. Russ Fulcher (R), who insists the governor isn’t right-wing enough. But Otter also didn’t want to look like he’s afraid of his challenger, so the governor agreed to one televised debate.
There was, however, a catch: Otter insisted on an inclusive event, featuring all of the Republican candidates, not just the top two. That meant Otter and Fulcher would share the stage with a biker named Harley Brown – the public television network that aired the debate did so on 30-second delay because producers assumed Brown would use profanity during the event – and an elderly anti-abortion activist named Walt Bayes.
As Chris Hayes explained last night, the strategy worked exceptionally well – Fulcher received less than 13 minutes of airtime, a fraction of what he would have received in a one-on-one debate. Otter hoped to deny his principal rival a platform – or at least less of one – and that’s precisely what happened.
In this case, Fulcher’s loss was our gain. I, for one, will not soon forget the line, “Get this lunatic out of my cellar!”
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