Chamber-Backed Republican Beats Tea Party Challenger in Idaho

U.S. Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, an Appropriations subcommittee chairman and ally of House Speaker John Boehner, survived a Republican primary challenge that pitted the business community that backed him against the Tea Party.

Simpson beat Bryan Smith, a lawyer and political novice aligned with the limited-government movement, in a race watched nationally for signals about the Republican Party’s direction.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce listed Simpson’s renomination as one of its top 2014 election goals. And the threat to Simpson, 63, had awakened local business groups and Idaho companies with little or no history of getting involved in primaries.

With 23 percent of precincts reporting in yesterday’s primary, Simpson had 63 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press tally. Smith had 37 percent.

Simpson, seeking a ninth term, has cast several votes in recent years that angered Tea Party activists.

He was the only member of the current Idaho congressional delegation in 2008 to back the $700 billion bailout of financial markets, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Simpson also was one of just 16 House Republicans in March 2012 to support a budget plan that would raise revenue as well as cut spending.

His district covers most of the state’s southern half and is home to a robust potato crop and one of the nation’s most concentrated Mormon populations.

It’s also one of the U.S.’s most heavily Republican districts, so Simpson is strongly favored to keep his seat in November. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who endorsed Simpson, won 64.5 percent of the district’s vote in the 2012 presidential election.

Chamber’s Ads

The U.S. Chamber, the nation’s largest business-lobbying group and a traditional Republican supporter, had run 2,039 ads in Idaho on Simpson’s behalf at an estimated cost of close to $300,000 through May 19, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG data.

Tea Party allies also made the race a testing ground. The Club for Growth, a Washington-based group that favors spending cuts, backed Smith, as did small-government advocates FreedomWorks and the Madison Project.

The primary’s outcome could help change how the House operates in 2015. Last year’s partial government shutdown was led by the Tea Party caucus in the House, and business groups were stunned when some of those members resisted raising the government’s debt ceiling while discounting a default’s economic impact.

A shift in the number of Tea Party allies could give Boehner, who is expected maintain the speakership in the next Congress, more flexibility in avoiding such face-offs and passing other business priorities, including infrastructure spending bills.

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