Idaho politics in 1994 should feature the hottest governor's race in decades.

It has been 24 years since Republicans last had a candidate who did not face an incumbent Democratic governor or former governor. But with Cecil Andrus ending his unprecedented fourth term, the GOP figured to devote much of its attention and money to retaking the governor's office next year.Look for a tough, no-holds-barred campaign by the parties, if not the candidates.

The race appears to be Democratic Attorney General Larry EchoHawk's to lose heading into 1994. Polls show him with high name identification and plenty of good will among voters.

Former lieutenant governor, state Senate leader and Republican Chairman Phil Batt of Wilder and Boise businessman Larry Eastland, a former state party treasurer, could turn the GOP primary into a two-way battle.

The other Republican challengers, Boise businessmen Chuck Winder and Doug Dorn, have made little splash so far.

EchoHawk's only Democratic challenger is former state Sen. Ron Beitelspacher of Grangeville. And while he has been encouraged to run for some other office to complete a Democratic "dream team" for 1994, Republicans would like Beitelspacher to stay in the primary against EchoHawk.

If the attorney general has no primary opponent, and there are no major battles for the other spots on the ticket, Democrats may cross over and vote in the Republican primary.

Their goal will be to pick the weakest Republican to run against EchoHawk. Only a couple of thousand Democrats crossing over could skew the results of a four-way primary.

The Republican strategy could be to dent EchoHawk's positive image with voters. But that will not be easy since he is a Mormon with roots in eastern Idaho - the kind of credentials usually associated with GOP candidates.

He also has a solid record as a former state legislator, Bannock County prosecutor and attorney general. EchoHawk appears poised to run a law-and-order campaign based on that record, and Republicans may have trouble trying to attack it.

Any mudslinging aimed at EchoHawk probably will not come from Batt and Eastland. Going negative is not their style. But GOP operatives on the fringe of their campaigns or others might be less polite.

Republicans also hope to make a serious run at Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco in the 1st District since Idaho has no U.S. Senate race in 1994. But with no challenger in sight for Republican Congressman Michael Crapo in the 2nd District, the GOP should be able to focus most of its statewide resources on the governor's race.

The campaign starts in earnest in January.

Batt makes his formal announcement Jan. 19, and Eastland is expected to make his announcement about the same time.

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Lt. Gov. Butch Otter also plans to announce for re-election near the end of January. And with Boise surgeon Dean Sorensen already in the race, former state Rep. Dean Haagenson, a Coeur d'Alene contractor, will make it a three-way GOP primary when he announces his candidacy in the coming week.

All that will be against the backdrop of what promises to be a feisty session in the Legislature. With all 105 legislative seats up for re-election and up to $75 million in surplus cash to spend, expect some long, divisive battles over how much extra to put into education and health care.

The Republican-dominated Legislature also could play a role in the governor's race. EchoHawk may find himself on the defensive if GOP leaders press to have him - rather than other attorneys in his office - handle the state's case against school districts suing the state for more funding.

EchoHawk has said public schools need more money, but he also has vowed to meet his constitutional duty as the state's chief legal officer. That could be troublesome if it means handling the Legislature's counterclaim that school districts are responsible for their own financial problems.

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