Former Rep. Raúl Labrador, who spent his four terms in the House as one of the most prominent tea party bomb throwers before losing his 2018 primary for governor of Idaho, announced Wednesday that he would try and resurrect his electoral career by unseating five-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the May Republican primary. Wasden, who is the longest serving attorney general in state history, has not yet said if he’ll seek re-election, but the Associated Press writes that he lists his campaign as active with the secretary of state’s office.
While Labrador, as we’ll discuss, has a well-deserved reputation for not playing well with others, he kicked off his new campaign by arguing he’d “be a true partner with conservative lawmakers in the Legislature as they work to draft and write good laws that will stand up against the gamesmanship of activist judges.” That’s a not-so-subtle reference to Wasden’s many battles with a legislature that’s dominated by hard-liners from his party.
Most notably, Wasden refused to join 17 other GOP attorneys general in trying to overturn Joe Biden’s victory by arguing that he shouldn’t be getting involved in other state’s elections, but that’s far from the only time he’s alienated lawmakers. The AP’s Keith Ridler wrote in April that Wasden has called some of their legislation unconstitutional, and that he also infuriated them by “defending state-owned land and a constitutional mandate to maximize the state’s profits from logging, grazing and mining leases on that land to benefit schoolchildren.”
Things came to a head this spring when the state House overwhelmingly passed two bills that would have, in Ridler’s words, “significantly defund[ed]” Wasden’s office. They each died in the state Senate, but Labrador is betting that the hard-right is still furious with their attorney general.
Labrador has been a high-profile national figure ever since 2010, when the then-state representative won the GOP primary for the 1st Congressional District by defeating Iraq War veteran Vaughn Ward, who was one of Sarah Palin’s favorite candidates at the height of her influence. Labrador went on to ride the GOP wave to victory by unseating freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick, and he quickly established himself in D.C. as one of the biggest headaches for the GOP leadership.
Robert Draper would write in his book “Do Not Ask What Good We Do” that the new congressman told Speaker John Boehner that he “didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team,” something he proved in 2013 when he voted against returning Boehner to the speaker’s chair. Labrador would later say, “I led the effort to oust Speaker Boehner from his leadership post. At that time, we had sufficient votes to be successful, but at the last minute, several members changed their votes to support Boehner.”
Labrador that same year considered picking another fight at home by challenging Gov. Butch Otter for renomination. The congressman ultimately decided to stay put, though he endorsed Russ Fulcher’s near successful campaign against Otter (Fulcher would eventually succeed Labrador in the House in 2018). Labrador still tried to exert influence in local politics at home only to chair a chaotic 2014 state party convention that broke into infighting; according to The Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell, Labrador "ended the convention facing jeers and walkouts from his own party members."
Labrador was at the center of another fiasco in D.C. a few months later when he launched a long-shot campaign to succeed Eric Cantor, who had just lost his primary in Virginia, as majority leader. There was never much of a question, though, that California's Kevin McCarthy would win, especially since Labrador lacked even the basic contact info for his colleagues. The following year the Idahoan gave Boehner some crucial support in his bid to keep the top job in the House, though he later torched him as “the worst speaker of the House in history.” Labrador in 2015 also co-founded the nihilistic House Freedom Caucus.
Labrador, who generated more headlines in 2017 when he argued, “Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care,” decided to bail on D.C. by running to succeed the retiring Otter as governor. Labrador had a large geographic base as a congressman representing half the state, but he was badly outspent by his two main intra-party foes, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and physician and developer Tommy Ahlquist. Little edged out Labrador 37-33, but the defeated congressman soon rebounded by narrowly winning a 2019 race for state GOP chair.
Labrador stepped down from his party perch the next year, but he’s hardly been out of the spotlight. Labrador, just like so many of his ideological brethren, spent the pandemic questioning the effectiveness of masks, and he got a bigger perch this winter when he was appointed to the Central District Health Board.