BOISE, Idaho (CN) — The last several years of American politics have seen no small share of unconventional contests. But the current gubernatorial race in Idaho may be shaping up to be one of the wildest yet.
Positioned as the front-runner is Governor Brad Little, seeking reelection for the first time after winning the job in 2018. Little has enjoyed a long career in Idaho politics, serving in the state Senate for nearly 10 years before being elected to two terms as Idaho’s lieutenant governor under Governor Butch Otter.
But despite Little’s history with the lieutenant gig, it is that job’s current occupant that has challenged his reelection. Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, also a Republican, is making a bid for the top job after a strained relationship with the governor has commanded most of her time in office.
While winning an election against your own second-in-command could prove complicated, experts say it would be wise to remember that Little is no stranger to challenging races.
Ross Burkhart, professor of political science at Boise State University, notes the GOP primary for governor four years ago was filled with well-known, well-funded political heavyweights — and Little, armed with support from Idaho’s GOP establishment, still triumphed.
“Governor Little does, indeed, have an intense month of work to do with an Idaho GOP that is increasingly fractionalized, a victim of its own electoral success as it has become a giant tent for the politically ambitious,” Burkart said. “However, the governor’s task may be a bit easier this time.”
With Little now squaring off with his own lieutenant governor, questions have swirled on how their political relationship brought them to this point and how it might influence the race.
McGeachin, who has seen much of her support come from the far right and was endorsed by former President Donald Trump last year, has clashed with Little over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and has worked against the governor on several occasions. This past May, when Little temporarily left the state for a governor’s conference, McGeachin used her status as acting governor to issue an order barring state officials, cities and universities from adopting mask mandates — all without the governor’s consent.
She repeated a similar stunt again in late 2021, when Little was on a tour of the southern border. Both times Little revoked the orders immediately upon returning to the state.
McGeachin also fell into some hot water this past February when she made a taped speech to the America First Political Action Conference in Florida, a white nationalist gathering that reportedly saw attendees cheering for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Her speech garnered immediate pushback from top Republicans in the state, including Idaho GOP chairman Tom Luna and Little himself — though he refrained from naming McGeachin directly.
“It is extremely unfortunate anyone in elected office in Idaho must make statements like these but let me be clear — I fully reject racism in all forms,” Little said in a tweet a few days after McGeachin’s speech. “There is no place for racism and hate in the great state of Idaho. As governor, I will continue to stand up for Idahoans’ values and work to make our state a place where our children and grandchildren choose to stay.”
But does this explosive relationship with the governor coupled with her far-right base make her a strong candidate? Political experts are not convinced.
“I am uncertain about whether Lieutenant Governor McGeachin today is as strong a candidate as was either [Raul] Labrador or [Tommy] Ahlqiuist in 2018,” Burkhart said, mentioning Little's challengers in that race. “McGeachin's issue positions are more extreme than theirs were, and her association with white nationalists is likely to play poorly with a substantial amount of the Republican electorate.