Simpson beats Smith

Bryan Smith’s daughter, Molly Smith, waits with her friend Parker Gardner for her father to arrive at his campaign party Tuesday at the Residence Inn in Idaho Falls. Bryan Smith appeared at 10 p.m. to announce his loss to Congressman Mike Simpson.

Republican Congressman Mike Simpson has beaten back a primary challenge from Idaho Falls lawyer Bryan D. Smith.

With 589 of the state’s 942 precincts reporting, Simpson was leading by a more than 20 percentage point margin, securing his spot in the general election against Democratic challenger Richard Stallings. Stallings previously held the 2nd Congressional District seat for a decade.

While Simpson was leading by a wide margin, the race appeared to be the closest he has faced since first winning the office in 1998. As of 12:09 a.m. today, Smith had garnered more than 38 percent of the vote.

“It’s probably the most challenging primary race that I’ve been in,” Simpson said.

In Bonneville County, Smith received 3,473 votes to Simpson’s 5,943, with 47 of 50 precincts reporting.

Smith conceded the race at about 10 p.m.

“We fought really hard,” he told a crowd at the Marriott Residence Inn in Idaho Falls. “We gave them the best fight that they possibly could have had. This is not the last you will hear from Bryan Smith.”

The race captured nationwide attention as a showdown between the traditional, business-oriented wing of the Republican Party and hard-line conservatives.

Smith gained the backing of ultraconservative political action committees such as the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which funded ads attacking Simpson as too liberal.

Business lobbies such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shot back, funding ads defending Simpson and attacking Smith’s debt collection businesses. Simpson also won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

“There was an awful lot of outside money coming in both sides of the campaign,” Simpson said.

The campaign featured a slew of negative advertising, largely funded by those out-of-state groups.

“That has a tendency to happen when there is a whole lot of money being spent on a race,” Simpson said.

Both Simpson and Smith said the tone of the race left the Republican Party with considerable healing to do before November.

“The party has to come back together,” Simpson said. “I know the people of Idaho are tired of all the negative ads. I had a responsibility to point out the record of my opponent, and I’m sure that he felt a responsibility to point out my record.”

Simpson has built a reputation around making pragmatic compromises, a practice he said is essential to governing effectively. Such moves include his vote last year to pass a temporary budget, or “continuing resolution,” which ended the 2013 government shutdown. But it also ended a push spearheaded by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to defund the Affordable Care Act.

But Simpson also has taken conservative positions on many issues. He has been a vocal critic of the Environmental Protection Agency, and, as a member of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, worked to significantly cut the EPA budget. He also has a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life.

Smith ran on a purist conservative platform, saying he would not vote to increase the debt ceiling without an agreement for large spending cuts. He said he would defend Second Amendment rights. He also supported cutting corporate tax rates, as well as shifting to a flat income tax.

In November, Simpson will face Stallings, who has come closer to defeating him than any of Simpson’s opponents since the 1998 Republican Primary.

In 1998, Stallings, who had held the 2nd Congressional District seat from 1982 to 1992, returned to challenge Simpson for the vacant seat. He received nearly 45 percent of the vote to Simpson’s 53 percent that year.

Since that time, no challenger had received more than 35 percent of the vote in a race against Simpson.