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The setup

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

The setup to Idaho politics 2014, on the congressional level, hardly could be clearer after the October 16 round of votes ending (for now) the federal government shutdown and the threat of federal debt default, not just because the congressional votes but because of the markers it set.

Both of Idaho’s senators were in the small group of about one-fifth of the Senate who voted against the measure who opposed the bill taking that step, but in their chamber they were part of too small a group to much affect the outcome. Most Senate Republicans voted in favor.

The House was different. There, the crisis-over bill passed with only a minority of Republicans plus all the Democrats; most House Republicans voted against. And unlike the Republicans in the delegations of Washington (all voting in favor) or Oregon (voting against), Idaho’s two House members split their votes. Raul Labrador of the first district voted against, and Mike Simpson of the second in favor.

This sets up and expands the gap between the two (Labrador has declined to back Simpson in his primary contest), and could point up contrasting types of races.

Simpson’s press release immediately after the vote got right into that, acknowledging explicitly (this is actually unusual) the politics of the vote. The second paragraph said, “While acknowledging his vote in favor of the bill might be unpopular with some of his constituents, Simpson said the potential economic consequences of continued stalemate outweighed any political consideration.”

In the next paragraph: “The easiest, most politically expedient thing for me to do would have been to vote NO and protect my political right flank,” said Simpson. “Doing so, however, would have been the wrong thing to do for my constituents and our economy. My vote today was about the thousands of people facing layoffs at INL, the multitude of businesses across Idaho that have told me their livelihoods are at stake, and the millions of folks across the country who can’t afford the devastating impacts of default on their investments and retirements. There has to be a way to address our nation’s fiscal problems without making them worse in the process.”

There’s his campaign argument for next year.

It’s gutsier than it first seems, because here’s what Simpson is implicitly saying about the other three members of the Idaho delegation: That they did the wrong thing for their constituents, that they cast aside the people whose lives and livelihoods were at stake, that they would make the nation’s future worse by their actions. It’s quite a critique, but implicit in any self-defense Simpson would offer.

The statement in Labrador’s release that most nearly serves as a counterpoint says this: “Like nearly all of my colleagues, I promised my constituents in 2010 and 2012 that I would fight ObamaCare – not just cast symbolic, meaningless votes – but work hard to roll it back whenever and wherever possible. I also promised that I would oppose raising the debt ceiling without meaningful cuts to government spending.” The reference to politics here was implicit, but just as clear.

Simpson’s “right flank” already is alive with serious primary challenge, in the form of Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith, newly boosted last week with endorsements from Republican state legislators. Simpson is keenly aware that his vote would make that contest all the hotter.

And Labrador? He has a Democratic challenger, but within the Republican party only a university student is challenging him. If there’s a substantial group of first district Republicans who think Simpson rather than Labrador had the right approach here, their window to mount a serious challenge won’t be open much longer. If a serious candidate from the direction of the center did surface, the mirror-image races in the two districts next year would make for quite a spectacle.

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