President Donald Trump may have shelved an endorsement that could have been a factor in one of Idaho’s most contentious gubernatorial primaries.
The New York Times reports that a group of unidentified lawmakers and White House aides pushed President Donald Trump to endorse U.S. Congressman Raul Labrador in his bid for governor this past spring.
The report says supporters of now governor-elect Brad Little quickly put together a series of video clips in which Labrador bashes Trump during the 2016 presidential primary race.
In one appearance on MSNBC, Labrador criticized him for not being a “gracious” loser. “Every time he loses a state, it’s not because of poor organization, it’s not because it wasn’t a good state for him, it’s because somebody cheated him and he’s a big whiner,” he said.
During another interview on KTVB, Labrador questioned his temperament.
"Apparently, every time somebody looks at his history he threatens to sue them. I just think, 'Is that the kind of person that we want running the United States of America?' What's he going to do, is he going to sue Russia when they don't agree with him? ... That's just a ridiculous and a preposterous way to run a campaign."
Trump didn't endorse Labrador, or any gubernatorial candidates, in this year's Republican primary. But some Labrador supporters see it differently.
“If that’s all the Trump administration saw, then they were definitely manipulated,” said China Gum, Labrador’s former campaign manager.
While she acknowledged the congressman supported Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul over Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential primary, he was a steadfast Trump supporter as soon as the New York real estate mogul locked down the nomination in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention that summer.
In fact, Labrador was one of the few Republicans who didn’t waiver on the campaign trail as Trump tried to fend off calls for him to shutter his campaign after the Access Hollywood tapes leaked, in which he bragged he could “grab [women] by the [genitals]" because of his celebrity.
“Even when elected officials in Idaho were asking Donald Trump to drop off the ballot, Raul Labrador was there campaigning for Donald Trump nationally,” Gum said.
Idaho’s gubernatorial primary turned into a bare-knuckle brawl at times among Labrador, Little and Boise businessman and first-time politician, Tommy Ahlquist.
Affiliated PACs and the candidates’ respective campaigns raised nearly $7.5 million, marking the race as the most expensive in Idaho’s history, according to Gary Moncrief, a political science professor at Boise State University.
Ultimately, Little eked out a victory, winning with 4.7 percent more of the vote.
“Stuff like that can definitely matter,” Jeffrey Lyons, a political science professor at Boise State, says of a presidential endorsement.
Whether such a nod from Trump would’ve tipped the primary election in favor of Labrador, Lyons can’t say. But, endorsements can be critical in interparty primaries when voters can’t fall back on partisan lines and check the box with a D or R next to a name.
“That’s a clever move. Well done to the Little campaign – you earned your keep that day,” Lyons said.
Brad Little’s campaign director, Zach Hauge, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment for this story.
According to the Brookings Institution, Trump endorsed 75 candidates running for Congress this year. Twenty-eight percent of those candidate won. That percentage of successful endorsements was much lower than other national figures, including Vice President Mike Pence, former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Still, Gum, Labrador’s former campaign manager, says it would’ve been nice to have.
“I think anytime you have the president’s support, of course you’d accept an endorsement,” she said.
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