Idaho’s five-term Republican attorney general has handled his duties in the deeply conservative state for 20 years with a strategy he describes as legal “balls and punches.” He is up against two challengers who see a more activist role for the office.
Lawrence Wasden, a former prosecutor backed by established Republicans, is likely in the toughest primary race of his career against former U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Art Macomber, a political newcomer who has never held public office.
Labrador, a Tea Party favorite during his eight years in the US House of Representatives, lost to the now governor. Brad Little in the 2018 Republican primary. The attorney general job could be a springboard for another gubernatorial run in 2026.
Macomber, a self-described outsider with a background in civil litigation, could be a spoiler for Labrador if he siphons enough votes away from far-right Republicans.
Wasden has the backing of Little and former Republican governors. CL “Butch” Otter, Dirk Kempthorne and Phil Batt, Republican US Rep. Mike Simpson, and former Republican Attorney General and Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones. It is also endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
He tells lawmakers when he thinks proposed laws would likely be struck down by the courts, which rankles members of his party. They created a Legislative Legal Defense Fund to hire their own lawyers who critics say tell lawmakers what they want to hear. The fund, controlled by House and Senate leaders, has spent millions.
“You can choose an attorney general who follows the law or one who thinks he’s a congressional activist or policymaker,” Wasden said during a debate with Labrador and Macomber last month.
Labrador is candid in telling conservative lawmakers that they will have a partner with him in the attorney general’s office.
“This job is not just a legal job, it’s a political job,” Labrador said in the same debate. “It would just be much more aggressive.”
Wasden has been involved in multiple lawsuits against the Biden administration, but has been criticized for not joining a lawsuit from Texas challenging President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. The US Supreme Court dismissed that lawsuit after to rule that Texas did not have standing.
Wasden said that by not participating, he was defending Idaho’s sovereignty because such a lawsuit could allow other states to sue Idaho, interfering with Idaho’s ability to govern itself.
The winner of the Republican primary will face Steve Scanlin in November, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary. But the winner of the Republican primary is expected to handily win the general election in the dark red state.