Eastern Idahoans can sometimes be accused of having a skewed view of their congressional district. It’s conservative. It’s Republican. But it is not tea party.
A district that contains the Idaho National Laboratory, Sun Valley, Boise, Pocatello and plenty of folks reliant upon the Farm Bill, subsidized higher education programs, PILT, food stamps and Medicaid may view the federal government with suspicion. It does not, however, view it as enemy.
That was clear on May 20.
Club for Growth-funded challenger Bryan Smith, who spent months and millions hitting on incumbent Mike Simpson’s supposed weak points, couldn’t even manage 40 percent of the vote. Things got so discouraging toward the end that Smith’s Club for Growth benefactors bailed on him in mid-April.
Even more disheartening for Idaho’s tea party is the effort to defend Simpson by groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – both in money raised and get-out-the vote efforts – had an effect throughout the district. Candidates seen as ideologically allied with Smith and the Club for Growth, with a notable exception in Madison County, got drubbed.
Some have crunched numbers and determined that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s narrow victory over challenger Russ Fulcher can be attributed to Simpson’s coattails. Otter lost the big three, Canyon, Ada and Kootenai counties. But he did well in Simpson territory, Mormon-heavy counties where he has struggled in the past because of a very visible divorce, DUI and victory in a tight jeans contest.
There is a certain irony to all this. Smith’s challenge was seen by some as Simpson’s Waterloo, a well-funded and organized effort to expose the incumbent as too liberal, too entrenched and too tied to special interests. Instead, the Club for Growth, by so loudly proclaiming Simpson its No. 1 target, appears to have done him a huge favor.
The Club, before it scurried out of Idaho with its tail between its legs, forced folks in the Second Congressional District to hold up a mirror and take a long look. They saw that a majority of citizens do not fit the Club for Growth profile. Adherence to rigid ideology is easy. Arguing your point, fighting for principle and taking the best deal possible is the art of lawmaking. It’s difficult to say if Simpson is loved. He is, however, respected.
In the end, the Club for Growth may have just made Simpson bulletproof. He did not attempt to appease tea partiers by apologizing for past votes or stances taken. Simpson ran as himself and received 62 percent of the vote. You can be reasonable in a red state and keep your job.
So, thank you Club for Growth. Thank you for showing us what we are and, just as importantly, what we have no interest in becoming.