Why to Keep an Eye on the ID-02 Primary

by Eliana Johnson

The primary race in Idaho’s second congressional district, which pits incumbent representative Mike Simpson against attorney Bryan Smith, is one of the many this cycle attracting an infusion of outside money. It’s one of the few, though, that fits into the traditional narrative about a tea-party candidate looking to upend the establishment. The primary will test the enduring muscle of anti-establishment forces and their long-term ability to unseat Republicans who don’t pass their ideological purity tests. 

Simpson, who has been in Congress for 15 years, was one of several Republicans who voted in favor of TARP, is a close ally of House speaker John Boehner, and has even been endorsed by the party’s 2012 standard bearer, Mitt Romney. The Chamber of Commerce and House leadership have also rallied to Simpson’s side, while the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund are backing his opponent.  

The latest ad, which hits airwaves tomorrow, is part of a $25,000 broadcast buy from Cold Spark Media, Smith’s consulting firm, goes after Simpson on his support for earmarks, an issue that has been festering amongst Republicans since 2010 when Republicans in the House and Senate banned them. 

“Listen to what liberal Mike Simpson said a few days ago,” a narrator says before the ad cuts to tape of Simpson, who said recently, “Let me tell you about earmarks. I’ve always been a supporter of earmarks.” 

It comes on the heels of an ad from the Chamber of Commerce, which praised him for fighting back against Nancy Pelosi’s agenda, calling him a “conservative” who is “Idaho strong.” 

The outcome of the primary — the district is a safe one for Republicans — will resonate beyond Idaho. Simpson is a personal friend of Boehner’s and wields considerable power in the House through his position on the Appropriations Committee.

The Club for Growth has made Simpson one of its top targets, and money has flowed into Smith’s coffers. He will be Simpson’s best-funded primary opponent. It’s a primary to watch. 

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