BOISE -- The Idaho Republican gubernatorial debate from earlier this week is getting national attention, not because commentators are interested in Gem State politics, but because they thought it was funny.

At times, the GOP gubernatorial debate on Idaho Public TV was a thoughtful discussion on the issues facing the state, between the two main candidates, Sen. Russ Fulcher (R-Meridian) and Gov. Butch Otter.

But that's not what's getting national attention. It's the comments from fringe candidates Walter Bayes and Harley Brown that that has much of the nation laughing.

However, Sen. Fulcher isn't laughing, since Otter demanded that all the candidates participate in the debate as a requirement for his participation. That's whether or not they qualified under IPTV's standards.

Although they did not meet the debate s qualifying criteria, Governor Otter demanded inclusion of two perennial candidates, Walt Bayes and Harley Brown, as a contingency of his participation in the only debate he would agree to. As a result, the debate turned from a serious discussion regarding the position of Idaho s Chief Executive to a mockery of the Republican Party and of Idaho, said Fulcher. Clearly, the governor wanted to take time away from me and minimize exposure to his failed record as governor. Apparently, Governor Otter is content to have Idaho be a laughing stock so long as it improves his chance of winning an election.

Otter actually has a history of demanding the inclusion of all candidates in debates. In fact, he says, A statewide debate that excludes candidates is an exercise in elitism. If some candidates don t meet your personal expectations, don t vote for them. But if they qualify to be on the ballot, they should be able to participate in the process.

Melissa Davlin, the moderator of the IPTV debate, says there was some meat to the discussion, but admits some parts were funny.

So why include everyone?

She says it didn't matter if all the candidates were qualified or not. Governor Otter was only going to do one debate and they were determined to make it happen.

Without Governor Otter there would not have been a debate. So we wanted to make this happen, said Davlin. If that was a condition of him appearing, then we were going to make it happen. Because, ultimately this was the only exchange between Governor Otter and Senator Fulcher that voters got to hear. I wish that the whole hour had been a very serious debate, but ultimately it was better than nothing.

All the candidates on the IPTV debate were also invited to take part in a debate on KTVB, if they could prove they met the requirements. Fulcher accepted. Otter though, declined. Bayes did not respond. Brown said he could not meet the requirements. So, that debate did not happen.

But did the IPTV debate actually help any candidate?

KTVB political analyst Dr. Jim Weatherby says it probably helped the governor.

I think it still helps the incumbent. Incumbents typically don't want to engage in debates, or if they do engage in debates, they prefer to have several members of the opposition there and dilute the message rather than have a one-on-one encounter, said Weatherby.

Although, Weatherby says there may be some backlash against the governor as Fulcher tries to push the message that Otter caused a black eye for Idaho. But we'll have to wait until the primary elections to find out. Those are coming up on Tuesday.

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