BOISE -- The race for Idaho's next governor is ramping up, with Congressman Raul Labrador throwing his hat in the ring on Tuesday.
His filing came just days after making controversial comments about health care at a town hall in Lewiston saying "nobody" dies because they don't have access to health care - a statement that sparked outrage across the country.
With 18 months to go until the election, three other prominent Republicans have already announced their candidacy: Russ Fulcher, Tommy Ahlquist and Lt. Governor Brad Little. Eight candidates are now after the state's highest office.
We have been hearing murmurs for months that Labrador was planning on running for governor in 2018 - and now we know for sure. The Republican primary election isn't until May of 2018, with the general election following in November.
It seems early to have so many candidates already committed, but ambitions are high since the seat hasn't been open in a decade.
"It's heating up a little earlier than I think we all thought," Russ Fulcher's campaign manager, Steve Ackerman, said.
Four GOP candidates, three Independents and one Democrat are all vying to serve Idaho as our 33rd governor.
"I don't think it's really a surprise when you have an open seat for governor," Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney told KTVB. "I expect that there will be more."
Secretary Denney says these candidates have taken the first step in registering and running for office, which is filing a campaign finance form.
"We have some, I think, very fine candidates. So I think the first one that beats 25 percent wins in the primary," Denney added. "I think it will be a competitive race."
One of those candidates is Tommy Ahlquist, chief operating officer of Gardner Co. and a former emergency room physician.
"It's going to be a tough race," Ahlquist said. "We need state-wide vision and leadership on almost every issue."
"I think my solutions are very conservative and I look forward to putting my solutions up against these other guys."
Ahlquist says improving education and growing the economy are two major issues facing the gubernatorial candidates, but reforming health care is the biggest issue.
"Health care premiums are killing businesses around this state. So we've got to do something. Obamacare was not the answer. It never was, it wasn't funded, it doesn't cover the right people and it's killing businesses. So we've got to change that," Ahlquist told KTVB. "It's a complicated issue; there's not a silver bullet for this but I think there's a lot of great answers that are conservative that allow competition and free market back into our system."
Russ Fulcher's campaign manager, Steve Ackerman, says his candidate agrees.
"That is the issue," Ackerman said. "We have got to make it so everybody has access and open up the markets and let them really provide the kind of avenues for people, giving them choice, giving them lower cost."
A commercial Realtor, fourth-generation Idahoan, and a former state senator, Fulcher is running for governor for the second time.
"Russ is really about solutions," Ackerman added. "He's really focused on high-wage jobs and better access to health care."
Among those issues, Fulcher also wants to focus on relieving Idahoans' tax burdens, promoting high tech and natural resource-based jobs and giving federally-managed land to the states.
"There's going to be talk of splitting of the conservatives. I mean, we've been here since August and anybody coming in, I mean we've been here," Ackerman told KTVB. "One of the things he did in '14, and how we got within 8 percent of winning after five months, was Russ got on the road."
Lt. Governor Brad Little's campaign manager said Little didn't have time to meet with us on Tuesday, but he did release this statement in response to Labrador's filing:
"Idaho is not Washington DC, and I would like to welcome Congressman Labrador back home to the place where we balance our budget and conservative ideals guide us each day. Idahoans, including myself, look forward to hearing from Congressman Labrador about the accomplishments he has made while being in congress for over 6 years."
Congressman Labrador declined to do an interview with us on Tuesday about his campaign or about his controversial remarks on health care. He says he will make a formal announcement about his candidacy in the coming weeks.
Candidates won't officially file for governor until next February, so they will spend the next several months campaigning.
Ahlquist and Fulcher (who is currently out of the country, thus why he wasn't free for an in-person interview) both tell KTVB they have spent countless hours on the ground meeting people across the state already.
© 2017 KTVB-TV