The governor’s race: following the early dollars

There’s been much made about the timing of U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador’s entry into the governor’s race last week.

But don’t dismiss the obvious. What Labrador did was put together the apparatus to start raising money for a governor’s campaign, and a GOP primary that looms barely a year away. And in the money race, Labrador is already running at a disadvantage.

Because Lt. Gov. Brad Little jumped into the race last summer, he was able to raise $393,000 by Dec. 31. Russell Fulcher raised $51,000 in 2016. Tommy Ahlquist entered the race in 2017, and won’t have to file a campaign finance report until the summer — but the Boise developer and doctor is expected to run a big-money campaign. As of right now, Labrador is vying for dollars and votes with these three Republican opponents.

While Labrador is playing catchup, the gap probably isn’t insurmountable.

Even though Little jumpstarted his fundraising with a $50,000 personal donation, his 2016 haul is impressive. It includes big donations from some of the state’s most prominent industries and lobbying groups, such as Intermountain Gas, Union Pacific and the J.R. Simplot Co. He has also secured donations from some prominent Republican figures, such as former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb and Mike Gwartney, the longtime confidante to Gov. Butch Otter and the former (and embattled) head of the state Department of Administration. Several current legislators are in Little’s camp.

Still, Labrador has long positioned himself as an anti-establishment Republican. The mainstream GOP dollars probably weren’t heading his way, anyway.

Labrador will be in direct competition with Fulcher — for dollars and ultimately for votes. Both are courting the conservative wing of the GOP, and Labrador endorsed Fulcher in his 2014 run for governor.

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The 2016 fundraising numbers are interesting. But for Labrador and Ahlquist, the next sunshine reports will provide an early moment of truth. Those reports will cover fundraising through June 30.