Don't look now, but the 2010 Idaho primary elections are less than 13 months away.
And this bareknuckle 2009 legislative session will make or break political reputations, in 2010 and possibly beyond. So let's break down some of the players in the intra-Republican struggle:
Gov. Butch Otter: Much has been made about how this session will affect Otter's political future. If he "loses" on transportation funding, after vetoing 35 bills and keeping the Legislature in town for 114 days (and counting), will his 2010 legislative agenda be nothing more than an afterthought to lawmakers? Will it even be his last legislative session?
Otter is raising money, which points to a 2010 run. So the best operating theory at this point is that he runs again. But does he decide to step aside? Does he wind up facing an anti-tax candidate in the 2010 GOP primary? And who do Democrats run against him?
Lt. Gov. Brad Little: When Otter appointed the Emmett Republican from the state Senate as in January, this seemed to be the first step in a political five-year plan. Little would run statewide as lieutenant governor in 2010, a precursor to a 2014 gubernatorial run. As a prominent supporter of Otter's road repair plan, his success is tied somewhat to Otter's.
State Sen. John McGee: The Caldwell Republican has done nothing to quell rumors that he could be a congressional candidate someday. And he's hardly shied from the limelight, as one of the Legislature's most vocal supporters of a gas tax increase. McGee's pro-roadwork politics are made to order for a commuter legislative district. How would his gas tax support play in the rest of the 1st Congressional District?
State Rep. Raul Labrador: The Eagle attorney is young and staunchly conservative on social and fiscal issues. When organizers held a second — and much more sparsely attended — anti-tax tea party on Monday, Labrador was one of the speakers. As one of the Republicans who helped orchestrate the ouster of state GOP chairman Kirk Sullivan last summer, Labrador could have a base of conservative loyalists.
State Reps. Mike Moyle and Ken Roberts: It's certainly not unheard of for a lawmaker to parlay a leadership position into a run for higher officer. Even if Moyle, the House majority leader, and Roberts, the House GOP caucus chairman, never run for higher office, they have a lot on the line this spring. The entire House leadership team has staked its reputation on its ability to close ranks, flatly saying that there aren't the votes in the House to raise the gas tax.
The long-term politics are a subtext. But the uglier this session gets — and the closer it comes to shattering the 118-day record set in 2003 — the more this becomes a game of political Darwinism.
Click here for some excellent connecting-the-dots reporting from John Miller at the Associated Press.