Rep. Mike Simpson sees a competitive challenge in Bryan Smith

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U.S. Representative Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, right, a 12-term congressman representing the state’s 2nd congressional district, faces challenger Bryan Smith, an Idaho Falls attorney, in the Republican primary.

Republican voters in eastern Idaho may feel like they’re experiencing deja vu as they cast their ballots in the May 17 primaries for the 2nd congressional district, which includes a repeat game between longtime incumbent Rep. date Mike Simpson and challenger Bryan Smith.

Simpson, 71, and Smith, 59, an Idaho Falls attorney, also faced off in the district’s 2014 Republican primary. Simpson, a former dentist, won that race with nearly 62 percent of the vote, as well as three general elections since.

Now, as he seeks a 13th term, he is campaigning largely on his record having held the seat since 1999.

“My record over the last 12 quarters speaks for itself,” Simpson told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview. “I think I reflect the values ​​and interests of my state and district very well.”

Smith, meanwhile, is on a slate of right-wing candidates across multiple statewide races trying to bring down a number of incumbents. In what turned into a costly and grueling primary battle, Smith called Simpson both a ‘career politician’ and a RINO – a term meaning ‘Republican in name only’ – while claiming his opponent lost. contact with his constituents.

Part of that, Smith said, is because the state and the congressional district have become increasingly conservative, including during former Republican President Donald Trump’s four-year term.

“Mike Simpson has become a fossil and a relic to his constituents,” Smith told the Statesman in a phone interview. “State spun more right, while Mike dropped, faired and veered left. All of those things make it a much different race than 2014.”

Simpson took issue with the characterization, instead describing himself as a “go-to guy” in Congress on all things agriculture, including his involvement in drafting the U.S. Farm Bill renewed every five years. Additionally, he highlighted his work to remove gray wolves from federal protections, guide statewide management of sage-grouse protections, and also ensure the U.S. Forest Service has the funds needed to combat the increasing occurrences of catastrophic wildfires in the West.

As a senior member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Simpson said his continued state representation was essential to maintaining Idaho’s interests in Washington, DC.

In a recent spending bill signed by President Joe Biden, for example, Simpson said he helped securing tens of millions of dollars in water system upgrades at Mountain Home Air Force Base, record funding for the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, and an overall national defense budget bolstered by up to the end of the exercise.

Smith, however, took aim at the $1.5 trillion spending program, against which the rest of the federal delegation from Idaho—Republican senses Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Representative Russ Fulcher—each voted against. Smith called the bill an example of Simpson’s growing drive to support big spending and expanded government — ones that don’t respect traditional conservative values.

“In 2014 I ran because Mike was just too liberal for the district, I felt like that,” Smith said. “What’s hard to believe is that Mike Simpson did the impossible and got worse.”

The most expensive congressional race in the state

Together, Simpson and Smith have raised more than $1 million in campaign donations since October, according to Federal Election Commission records, easily making it Idaho’s most competitive congressional race. Smith added an additional $450,000 in personal loans to his campaign to match Simpson’s nearly 2-to-1 fundraising pace.

Through April, the two candidates have also combined to spend more than $1.2 million on television and digital ads, consultants, fundraising events and direct mail to voters. Residents of the 2nd Congressional District will be happy when May 17 rolls around, Simpson joked, just so they can see the end of the blitz of political direct mail and race-related TV ads.

“As a challenger, you need enough money for an active campaign, to help build name recognition, as well as to differentiate yourself from the incumbent or attack the incumbent,” said Jaclyn Kettler, professor of political science at Boise State University. . “Other groups are spending money as well, and that’s the one thing that’s hard to track carefully before the election.”

Three other Republicans qualified for the 2nd Congressional District primary: Flint L. Christensen, Daniel AL Levy and Chris Porter. However, none of the three reported fundraising or active campaigning, leaving Simpson and Smith in a two-horse race.

Polarize political disagreements

What both candidates agree on is the need to better secure the US-Mexico border, something each has said the Biden administration has failed to do since taking office. Simpson and Smith each want to see the restart of border wall construction that was started under Trump.

So too, each candidate told the Statesman, to jump-start construction of the Keystone XL pipeline along the Canada-US border and three US states to deliver more oil. The two also said they would like to see an increase in mining for minerals and natural resources on public lands in Idaho.

They agree each state should be responsible for its own elections, rather than the federal government getting more involved, as they said Democrats are seeking to do with new laws.

Simpson, however, said he had confidence in the 2020 election results, when Biden defeated Trump. Smith said, however, that he believes growing evidence shows voter fraud on a ‘massive and giant scale’ swung the presidency to Biden, instead of Trump – lining up with the false claims of Trump and his allies, for which evidence has never surfaced.

“There’s no doubt that the election was, I will say, rigged in favor of Joe Biden,” Smith said. “It appears to have been stolen from (Trump) through illegal ballot and ballot box collections, and there’s very good reason to believe that, had that not happened, the President Trump would have been the president.”

One of Simpson and Smith’s biggest clashes involves their respective strategies for solving water and salmon population issues along the lower Snake River.

Simpson proposed a compromise between Idaho, Oregon and Washington to remove four dams to help prevent potential salmon extinction, while recharging state aquifers and providing water for the farm and other farming needs. Smith argued that the approach is untested, does not solve the problem of fluctuating fish populations and is a “scare tactic” by Simpson to garner votes.

“I’m trying to save water for Idaho farmers rather than just dumping it in the river,” Simpson told The Statesman on Friday. “We put the concept out there, and it has to be debated and decided, I think, by the people of the Pacific Northwest. We are trying to put an end to the lawsuits, where we spend millions (of dollars) every year, against the farmers, because of the dams and the loss of salmon runs.

Simpson said the court is a place Smith has gotten too comfortable, given his job as a lawyer working for a debt collection agency.

He said Smith filed thousands of lawsuits against vulnerable Idaho residents in arrears with medical bills, amassing millions of dollars in payments through “excessive, abusive and unethical” practices. It’s Smith’s record that voters need to consider, Simpson said, because his opponent has never held public office before.

Smith called Simpson’s allegations in the bitter rivalry “vitriolic campaign rhetoric” in an effort to maintain control of the congressional seat. He said his law firm has never been accused of wrongdoing or illegal practices, received a cease-and-desist letter or closed by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, and maintains a Better Business Bureau “A-” rating.

“You’d think a 22-year-old starter would come forward on what he’s accomplished and what he’s done,” Smith said. “but from the very beginning he attacked me and my profession and attacked me as a lawyer. Mike is just making stuff up because he’s trying to win an election.

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Kevin Fixler is an investigative reporter for the Idaho Statesman. He previously covered local government, the environment and transportation at Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif., and Summit Daily News in Breckenridge, Colo. He is a graduate of the University of Denver and the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.
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