BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – Idaho Falls Republican Bryan Smith thinks things are different now than they were in 2014.
Smith, an attorney and businessman, is once again trying to unseat longtime Rep. Mike Simpson in Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District. He launched a primary campaign seven years ago, running to the right of Simpson as a first-time candidate for public office. Smith received 38.4% of the votes in the GOP primary loss to Simpson.
Campaign strategist Sarah Nelson confirmed that Simpson, first elected to his U.S. House seat in 1998, is running for reelection in 2022. Simpson has never received less than 60% of the vote in his victories over the past two decades.
But Smith thinks the political climate plays in his favor now — with public outcries over COVID-19 restrictions and Simpson’s vote in favor of the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s role in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
A self-described “hard-nosed conservative,” Smith says he better aligns with Idaho Republicans. Smith is also vice-chair of the right-wing Idaho Freedom Foundation’s board of directors and fourth vice-chair of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee.
Smith was the attorney who argued against the voter-approved Medicaid expansion in the Idaho Supreme Court and is a founding manager of Recovery Medical Services, a debt collection agency that’s faced controversy over its billing practices.
In an interview with the Idaho Statesman, Smith painted Simpson as an establishment candidate connected to special interests in Washington and out of touch with Idaho’s conservatives.
“They want the government’s lightest touch in their lives, and right now many of them feel like there’s a boot on their neck,” Smith told the Statesman. “They can see that it makes a difference to have a conservative voice standing up for them.”
In 2014, Smith was backed by groups such as FreedomWorks, The Madison Project and American Conservative Union. Most notably, Club for Growth donated $500,000 to Smith’s campaign, while Simpson was supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Simpson at the time spent at least $1.4 million in his race against Smith, the most he ever spent on a campaign.
Smith argues that Simpson had an “anti-Trump” voting record that will deal a blow to his campaign. He blasted Simpson for being one of 35 House Republicans who voted in favor of a commission to investigate Trump over the Jan. 6 riot, when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to prevent lawmakers from certifying the presidential election results. Five people were killed and hundreds injured. More than 600 people, including some Idahoans, have been charged with crimes in connection with the riot.
According to the website FiveThirtyEight, Simpson voted in line with Trump’s position 93.3% of the time in Trump’s term. He also supported the president both times he was impeached, voting against the articles.
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also endorsed Simpson in his last race, Smith said. Back then Romney was widely respected, he said, but Smith called him a “pariah” in the Republican Party now. Romney has been one of the most outspoken Republican politicians against Trump since his run in 2016.
SMITH: SNAKE RIVER DAM BREACHING IS ‘ISSUE THAT WILL HELP ME WIN’
In February, Simpson publicly announced a $33 billion infrastructure proposal to save Idaho’s salmon. His plan would remove the four lower Snake River dams in Washington, replace the electricity lost, and compensate shippers and farmers for closed barge facilities.
Simpson received scant support from Idaho Republicans and substantial political backlash. Gov. Brad Little, the Idaho Legislature, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch and U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher have publicly opposed Simpson’s plan. Idaho Republican Party leaders also took a vote of “no confidence” in Simpson in May.
Smith said he believes Simpson’s plan — which Smith criticized as prioritizing “fish over Idaho’s farmers and families” — will be enough to secure him a win.
“He has now joined with these radical environmentalists, and he wants to breach these four dams on the lower Snake River,” Smith said. “This is really an important issue. And I believe that this issue will be the dividing issue that will help me win this race.”
Smith also criticized Simpson’s record on immigration, government spending and gun regulations. Smith said he wants to secure the southern border and opposes any “amnesty for illegals.”
“All of these things are inconsistent with the Idaho values and the Republican Party that I love and hold dear,” Smith said. “It’s time that we have a true conservative in Washington representing the people’s voice.”
Simpson has maintained he’s against “amnesty.” He most recently has advocated for a path to permanent residency for farmworkers who have been in the U.S. for several years as temporary H-2A visa holders, a proposal some Republican lawmakers criticized as providing “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants. Simpson has defended the proposal as a merit-based system that would help address Idaho’s agricultural labor shortage.
Idaho’s two congressional districts are slated to change next year. A citizens redistricting commission is tasked with finding new boundaries using the state’s population counts from the 2020 census. To make both districts closer in population, Simpson’s district will need to expand to include an additional 35,000 or so residents.