Ask Gov. Butch Otter about his political future, and you hear a lot of things.
He wove a tale about returning to the White House as a congressman-turned-governor, and landing a banquet seat between then-gubernatorial colleagues Sarah Palin and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He told reporters about being pulled aside by President George W. Bush and being asked, in essence, what it was like to come to the White House for something other than the jawboning (or a rear-end chewing) that presidents usually reserve for members of Congress.
And he said that, while he maintains that a state-run health insurance exchange will be better than a federally run model, that his administration continues to have a give and take with the feds on 18 other sensitive issues, such as wolves, sage grouse and roadless areas.
But here are two things Otter didn’t do:
- He didn’t tip his hand on when he might officially announce his bid for a third term. He said he is planning to run and is fundraising, while trying to govern the state. “I’m just not going to be pushed into a calendar.”
- Otter did not rise to the bait and criticize a potential rival, Rep. Raul Labrador. The hot political rumor is that Labrador is looking to follow Otter’s lead and move from the 1st Congressional District seat to the governor’s office — setting up a blockbuster Otter-Labrador GOP primary.
Labrador has made the health exchange a centerpiece issue — taking the unusual step of returning to the Statehouse to meet with a couple of first-term legislators to discuss the pitfalls of a state exchange.
Otter framed this as a “legitimate difference” on issues — not unlike the way Otter sometimes differed with the Bush White House. But Otter defended his decision to pursue a state health exchange, in spite of the opposition in some Republican circles.
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The takeaway: On Friday, Otter sounded like someone saying all the things you’d expect a candidate-in-waiting to say. Someone gearing up for a battle, at least to a point. “I don’t hope anybody but me runs for governor.”
That may be asking a bit much.
(Read more: What did Otter have to say about education issues Friday? Clark Corbin has the story.)