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‘Where in the world is Raul Labrador?’

April 16, 2018 GMT

Idaho Falls Republican and potato farmer Stephanie Mickelsen made a strong case last week that GOP gubernatorial candidate Raul Labrador is afraid to engage his main opponents in a debate.

Mickelsen was inspired to write a column about U.S. Rep. Labrador’s debate absenteeism after he failed to show up last Monday for a candidate forum at the Compass Academy in Idaho Falls.

“The audience was informed that Mr. Labrador had family issues,” wrote Mickelsen in the Post Register newspaper. “I might have accepted this excuse from Congressman Labrador if it wasn’t a consistent pattern of behavior from him and his campaign. Congressman Labrador provided a last-minute excuse for missing the Compass Academy Forum, and was too busy to attend a University of Idaho Agriculture Forum even though he was in town, the CrossPolitic Forum, the Portneuf Healthcare Forum and a Twin Falls City Club Forum on Jan. 15 that was held on a holiday to accommodate his schedule.”

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The Compass Academy debate was attended by Labrador’s main GOP opponents Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Boise entrepreneur Tommy Ahlquist. Labrador, a Republican from Eagle near Boise, missed yet another opportunity to engage in a point-counterpoint with his main opponents in the gubernatorial race.

It’s probably safe to say that Idaho’s next governor will be either Labrador, Little or Ahlquist, but only two of those candidates seem willing to sit on the same stage to debate their views in front of an audience.

Labrador’s debate avoidance in East Idaho is baffling.

Could it be part of some prevent-defense strategy for his campaign, letting Little and Ahlquist duke it out in the eastern part of the state where Labrador knows his support is weak while he focuses on winning the rest of Idaho?

Who knows what the method to his madness is but Labrador is sending a message to Eastern Idahoans when he blows off debates in this part of the state.

To be fair, Labrador has showed up at multiple meet-and-greet events in Eastern Idaho and isn’t afraid to take the stage at these gatherings to present his platform.

But these events are typically Republican-sponsored such as the recent Lincoln Day dinners held in East Idaho and are almost always attended by Republicans only as opposed to debates which are attended by people of all political persuasions.

Still, anyone who’s heard Labrador talk at these meet-and-greet events likely can’t help but be impressed with his knowledge about our state and nation and he clearly has big plans for Idaho if elected.

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He’s articulate and passionate about his conservative stances on issues like the Second Amendment, abortion and marriage.

No one comes away from hearing Labrador speak thinking he’s a dummy or unfit for office. He has beliefs and values and is not shy about discussing them — unless apparently it’s in a debate setting involving Little and Ahlquist in East Idaho.

It all gives fodder to his detractors who are presenting Labrador in an ever more questionable light.

In East Idaho at least, Labrador’s debate absenteeism is being noticed and is being used as a springboard to examine his record in Congress, which apparently includes a lot of missed votes and taxpayer funded trips overseas.

The congressman can only blame himself and his lack of debate attendance that a question asked by Mickelsen — “Where in the world is Raul Labrador?” — is gaining traction in East Idaho.

We believe if Labrador did debate Little and Ahlquist he’d at least hold is own — which makes his avoidance of such forums even more strange.

In politics, a candidate can play it too safe and we fear that describes Labrador in this gubernatorial race.

If his GOP opponents weren’t so formidable, this strategy might work.

But against the likes of Little and Ahlquist, Labrador needs to show the rest of us that he’s got what it takes to be governor.

And that starts with simply showing up for debates.