COEUR D’ALENE –The hundred or so people gathered inside the Coeur D’Alene Resort Hotel for a Mitt Romney rally greeted Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter like an old friend.
Moments after strolling inside the convention hall, the Governor got a warm hug from Donna Montgomery, an event volunteer and long time member of Kootenai County Republican Women Federated. As the two walked toward the room, the Governor’s arm around Mongomery’s shoulders, she joked that Otter should be the one running for president.
“You know, I was up there for six years and didn’t like it much,” he retorted, reflecting on his six years in Washington D.C. as a congressman.
After shaking hands with me and Alicia Halberg — the only visible press at the event — the Governor disappeared inside the meeting hall and Montgomery nudged me with her elbow.
“Isn’t he cool,” she beamed.
Clad in jeans, a dress shirt with monogrammed “Butch” cuffs, American flag cuff links, and an enormous gilded belt buckle, the Governor carried himself a bit like a cowboy. He exuded a likability reminiscent of George W. Bush’s good ol’ boy charm. Aw shucks. I found myself agreeing with Montgomery.
It soon became clear that Governor Otter takes the term “Meet & Greet” very literally. Arriving twenty minutes before the scheduled event, Otter made the rounds in the room with a confident gait and easy smile. He chatted with everyone about everything from the election to their childhood.
After Jack Riggs, Idaho’s former lieutenant governor, gave an instructional breakdown of the caucus and the audience was regaled with a YouTube play list of Mitt Romney campaign ads, Otter finally took the stage.
Though the Governor had only officially endorsed Mitt Romney last year, his speech was composed of favorable recollections of their long-time friendship. He recounted Romney’s involvement with the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and how he “restored dignity” to the event.
“He’s a turnaround guy,” Otter announced. “That’s what this economy needs.”
He went on to assuage any doubts about Romney’s states’ rights record by recalling a conversation he had with the presidential candidate back in 2009. According to Otter, Romney warned him never to try a state health care system in Idaho. What worked in Massachusetts was only meant for Massachusetts and could never be instituted on a federal level.
“That’s why I say Mitt Romney has great reverence for the Tenth Amendment,” Otter continued. “So as governor, as the champion of the Olympics, and as a very successful businessman, I think he is exactly what we need in this nation today.”
In an interview he cheerily granted us after the rally, Otter returned to the topic of states’ rights and unwelcome federal regulations.
“When it comes right down to it, we ought to to be deciding those things in Idaho. I mean we care about our state. They act like that we don’t care about our environment, we don’t care about clean water, we don’t care about clean air. We do!”
If the issue is avoiding “one size fits all” regulations, then why not support Ron Paul, who talks about states’ rights more than any other candidate?
“Where Ron Paul and I disagree is on national defense,” the Governor replied. “I think you gotta be the toughest kid on the block.”
For Otter, Mitt Romney is the only one tough enough to tackle both President Obama and the economy. If enough Idahoans share their Governor’s confidence tonight, it’s entirely possible Romney will take home all of the Gem State’s 32 delegates.
Watch Butch Otter’s full interview with UW Election Eye below: