ICYMI: Idaho Race Shows Split in Republican Donor Base

Posted on 11/28/13 in Uncategorized, No Comments
Wall Street Journal
By Neil King Jr.
November 28, 2013
Something unusual happened after the conservative Club for Growth said it would try to oust Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson in next year’s election: A new GOP group rose up to defend him.
Since then, more groups have jumped in to help Mr. Simpson, making the battle in his corner of Idaho a leading example of how the Republican Party’s business-friendly, establishment wing plans to answer challenges from the party’s tea-party wing.
After the new group, a super PAC called Defending Main Street, committed to boosting Mr. Simpson, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry in August launched its own super PAC—a political action committee allowed to raise unlimited funds—seeking to defend the incumbent congressman. A number of national business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are also gearing up now to provide aid.
“In the past, groups like Club for Growth pretty much had the field to themselves in attacking centrist candidates, but not anymore,” said Steve LaTourette, a former Ohio Republican lawmaker who helped create the Defending Main Street organization, which plans to spend as much as $1 million to help Mr. Simpson.
The PAC is affiliated with the Republican Main Street Partnership, a 19-year-old group that calls for “pragmatism” in policy-making and includes members known for sometimes working with Democrats or bucking party leaders. Members include Sens. Susan Collins of Maine andJohn McCain of Arizona, and Reps. Peter King of New York and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.
The alliance now moving to defend Mr. Simpson, who is in his eighth term, is evidence of how much more aggressive the business community and other centrist and center-right forces plan to be in defending their favored candidates.
Defending Main Street plans to raise about $8 million to aid eight to 10 Republicans. The PAC’s decision in July to back Mr. Simpson was its first step into the 2014 elections.
“This race represents a real turning point for us in the business community,” said Greg Casey, president of the national Business Industry PAC, which also plans to back Mr. Simpson.
Business groups faced off in a similar but smaller fight earlier this month to help an establishment GOP candidate beat back a more conservative challenger in a special election in Alabama. In that case, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an array of corporate donors poured money into the race in the aftermath of the federal government shutdown, which had stirred fears in national business circles about the direction of Congress.
The Club for Growth, which has helped defeat a number of GOP incumbents in recent years, decided to target Mr. Simpson after the group’s membership voted to back his challenger, trial lawyer and political newcomer Bryan Smith, in an online ballot early this summer.
The group paints the Idaho fight as a match between small-government activists and GOP “special interests.” A defeat for Mr. Simpson, said the group’s spokesman, Barney Keller, “will send a shiver down the spine of the political establishment.”
The Club for Growth spent more than $18 million in the 2012 election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. It backed the Senate races of conservative Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who won, and Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who lost.
Apart from the Club for Growth, Mr. Smith is also being backed by small-government advocacy groups such as FreedomWorks and the Madison Project.
The groups are blasting Mr. Simpson, a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), as a defender of big government and corporate welfare. They fault him for voting to end last month’s government shutdown and supporting bank bailouts after the 2008 financial crisis.
First elected in 1998, Mr. Simpson has never struggled to win re-election or to beat back primary challengers in his heavily Republican district. His advisers point to support for him from the National Rifle Association and from antiabortion groups, as well as his record on the appropriations committee, where he pushed to trim funding for the Environmental Protection Agency while supporting continued farm subsidies. They also note that he has backed every move in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
His opponent clearly intends to hammer on Mr. Simpson’s vote in October to end the 16-day partial government shutdown and to approve a temporary lifting of the federal debt ceiling. “Congressman Simpson voted to raise the debt limit without any spending cuts and gave PresidentObama a blank check,” Mr. Smith said in an interview.
The race has created fissures in Idaho GOP circles. The incumbent has the support of the governor, the lieutenant governor, the state’s senior senator and the two heads of the state legislator. A number of GOP county chairmen and local leaders have rallied around the challenger, while Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Raul Labrador have refused to take sides.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Simpson won an unusual plug from the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. In just his second endorsement of the 2014 cycle (the first having gone to his vice-presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan), Mr. Romney made sure to remind Idaho voters of one thing.
In a short endorsement letter sent to primary voters across the district, the Mr. Romney noted how “conservative” Mr. Simpson is—nine times.

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