- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 30, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador on Tuesday formally launched his campaign to be Idaho’s next governor 2018, promising to bring his conservative leadership to the Gem State.

“Today I want to thank the people of Idaho for believing in me for the past seven years, your friendship and your prayers have meant more to me than you know,” Labrador said to a crowd of just under 100 people - with children making up at least a third of the audience - while speaking in Boise.

The fourth-term congressman had already filed paperwork to run as a Republican gubernatorial candidate in early May, ending prolonged speculation he was eyeing the top Idaho seat. Labrador was elected to Congress in 2010 with overwhelming support from voters in a district that covers the northern half of the state and snakes down to the western part of the Treasure Valley, including parts of Boise. He later became a founding member of the influential House Freedom Caucus.

Labrador said one of his accomplishments during his time in Congress, the Freedom Caucus, has helped switch leadership in the House - a move he described as making the chamber more conservative and reflecting Idaho values.

“I promised I would defend our freedoms, I would defend Idaho’s way of life and I would defend our values,” Labrador said. “I have kept those promises.”

Labrador focused Tuesday’s speech on improving Idaho’s competitiveness in the business community, reforming the state’s tax structure and maintaining education as a priority for Idahoans. He did not mention addressing health care, a move that comes after he faced nationwide criticism for making a comment at a town hall in Lewiston that no one has died because they didn’t have access to health care. That claim disputed by health care advocates and medical experts.

Labrador later said that he didn’t mention health care because he wanted to keep his speech brief.

Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little, former GOP state Sen. Russ Fulcher and GOP businessman Tommy Ahlquist of Boise have also entered the race to succeed Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who has said he is not running for re-election.

The GOP primary is expected to be the most competitive leg of the Idaho governor’s race. Just hours before Labrador made his announcement, Little’s campaign tweeted out “Welcome to Idaho, Raul!” Little’s campaign had previously dedicated a page on its website offering Raul suggestions where to stay and eat while in Idaho as a way to needle the congressman’s time spent in Washington D.C. and not in the state.

Labrador declined to comment on Little’s actions.

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