UPDATE 8/28: Idaho gubernatorial hopeful Rex Rammell has refused to apologize Friday for his joke about hunting Obama, saying in a statement, "Anyone who understands the law, knows I was just joking, because Idaho has no jurisdiction to issue hunting tags in Washington, D.C."
His comments were universally condemned by fellow Idaho Republicans. "Rex Rammell's comments are in very poor taste and should not have been said," said Sen. Mike Crapo. "I disgree often with the President and his policies. But the comment was totally unacceptable and should not have been made," said Sen. Mike Risch. Rep. Mike Simpson and former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt also offered harsh rebukes.
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BOISE, Idaho — An Idaho Republican gubernatorial hopeful insists he was only joking when he said he'd buy a license to hunt President Barack Obama.
Rex Rammell, a long-shot candidate slated to run against incumbent C.L. "Butch" Otter in the May 2010 GOP primary, made the comment at a Republican rally Tuesday in Twin Falls where talk turned to the state's planned wolf hunt, for which hunters must purchase an $11.50 wolf tag. The hunt is due to begin on Tuesday.
When an audience member shouted a question about "Obama tags," Rammell responded, "The Obama tags? We'd buy some of those."
Rammell told The Associated Press Thursday he sees no reason to apologize for the comment because it was just a joke.
"What I would say to all my Democrat Idahoans: Take a deep breath and relax," he said. "We're not going to go out and hunt Obama."
He also told the Times-News newspaper, "I would never support him being assassinated."
After Rammell's comment was published in the Times-News, he said one person sent him an e-mail indicating he would ask the FBI for an investigation.
Threatening the president can be a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
"I'm probably safe," Rammell said. "I'm not the one that started the whole thing."
Debbie Dujanovic Bertram, an FBI spokeswoman in Salt Lake City, said the agency couldn't comment on whether it was investigating or if it had received a complaint.
Democratic Party Chairman Keith Roark said Rammell comes from the far right of the GOP, but that's no excuse for his comment.
"Rex Rammell is pretty shrill, and I don't think he represents the mainstream of the Republican Party by any means," Roark said. "But I think the Republican Party in this state and elsewhere would be well served by making it clear those types of comments are very inappropriate."
Officials with the Idaho Republican Party in Boise didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Rammell, a former elk rancher and unsuccessful 2008 U.S. Senate candidate, gained exposure in 2006 when the state ordered domestic elk be shot after they escaped from his ranch near Rexburg.
Rammell isn't the first Rexburg resident who has drawn attention for making an anti-Obama comment. In November 2008, second- and third-grade students on a school bus there chanted "Assassinate Obama" after his election, prompting the mayor of this eastern Idaho town to publicly apologize.