Mike Simpson, the Republican now representing Idaho's second district for his eighth term, has become one of the state's most successful politicians. No one has held a U.S. House seat as long since Democrat Compton White more than half a century ago, and no one longer since the early statehood days of Addison Smith and Burton French.
So is the primary challenge unveiled in week's district-wide tour, by Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith, actually a threat?
The first snap answer, and maybe the considered answer too, based on the recent record, is that it's a long shot.
General elections have posed no challenge to Simpson since his first win for the House in 1998, the race that was his closest, against former Democratic Representative Richard Stallings; he's won in landslides every time since. More or less a centrist within his party, he drew no primary opposition in his first four races for re-election, and in 2008 two challengers could draw only 14.8% between them. But Simpson's lofty 85.2% dropped to 58.3% in 2010, the year of the Tea Party, when three candidates ganged up on him. That looked like an indication of some in-party weakness. The heaviest vote getter among them, Chick Heileson, pulled 24.1%; but when he ran again in 2012, he drew just 30.4% against Simpson. That may indicate Simpson lost some in-party strength, then regained much of it.
What does all that suggest for 2014? Well, like 2010, it will be an off-presidential year, where party activists – in this case, conservative activists – will be disproportionately represented in the primary. And unlike 2010, the Republican primary this time will be voted by registered party members. The results in the 2012 primaries didn't indicate that necessarily meant a conservative sweep, but the full import has to be tested in an off-presidential year. One of Smith's most visible supporters was the lead architect of Republican primary registration, former legislator Rod Beck. (more…)