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 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 percent between them. But Simpson’s lofty 85.2 percent dropped to 58.3 percent 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 percent; but when he ran again in 2012, he drew just 30.4 percent 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.

There’s also this: Smith is getting an early start, much earlier than Simpson’s primary opponents in the past. We don’t yet know what kind of candidate he will be, but the long stretch between here and the primary election, most of a year, can be a powerful thing if a candidate has the personal goods to make the sale. He surely goes in as an underdog, but the potential is there to change that. His activist-style message is much the same as the one Raul Labrador has ridden to success in the other Idaho House district, and if he organizes well enough it could catch hold in the second district too. Many of Simpson’s real assets — close ties to House leadership, deep experience, genuine legislative skill, and ability to work with a range of people — could be trouble for him in a closed Republican primary.

There are indicators Simpson has been taking the possibility of a challenge seriously, to judge from his tone and tenor, especially when the subject of the Obama Administration comes up (or is pulled in).

You might factor this in, too: Remember those long-serving congressmen from decades back, White, Smith and French? None of them retired from the House; all were beaten in the end, in runs for re-election when the tides eventually turned against them.

Randy Stapilus is a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor, author of The Idaho Political Field Guide, edits the Idaho Weekly Briefing, and blogs at www.ridenbaugh.com. He can be reached at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

(9) comments


I don't know much about Bryan Smith yet but I am hoping for good things. Mike Simpson has gotten used to the system and is now a part of the good ol' boy network. He has demonstrated that he will vote with his dear friend John Boehner even if it isn't good for us.

If I see that Bryan Smith will be one once better than Simpson he'll get my vote just for the simple fact that Mike Simpson voted for the NDAA and indefinite detention of american citizens without due process. The republican RHINO's keep claiming they want less government and then they keep voting for more of it and I think it's time we use our vote to give them less government!


i remember that ndaa vote. simpson actually opposed ndaa the first time because it allowed indefinite detention of americans. the next year he supported ndaa because the republicans added in new protections for americans guaranteeing their constitutional rights and protections despite dems best efforts. fortunately the constitution still stands despite the dems best efforts.


You need to do some research as it is in full effect, only your current President has "vowed" to not use it.

I'm sure you don't trust his judgement on if he should use it or not do you?


Is he Mormon, its the only chance he has. That seat has been held by a Mormon since 1933. Your wasting your money if your are not a Mormon running for office in this area. They can hide and deny all they want but that is how business is done in Southern Idaho. Its Mormon or nothing, unless you have the money to buy them off.


He is not active in the LDS church at least wasn't when he first ran in 98 don't know if he goes to church now or not. I don't think most people look at Religion when voting I don't for sure.


Well that's gonna be a problem, I hope he has a lot of money. Do you really think most people around southern Idaho don't vote based on religion? And if you don't - good for you, but I would bet you're not Mormon though.
I'd vote for a chimpanzee over that self aggrandizing chump Simpson. Look it up, every year he is the least effective congressman in DC. That's mainly because all he cares about is having a National forest named after himself and his own legacy. The guy has done nothing for the average folks in Idaho his whole career. And the sheep bah.. all the way to the polls.


I didn't vote for EchoHawk or the 2010 Democratic candidate for Governer though we do share the same religion. I would never vote for Dingy Harry or John Huntsman. Maybe Huntsman for party sake. I don't vote along religious lines. Did vote for Romney in Caucus though this time.


Let's get behind Smith and get rid of Simpson, a career politician who has sold Idaho out on more than one occasion.


Simpson has proven to me over the years to be a good congressman. why should i vote for smith? just because he has a big dc group supporting him? what have they ever done for us?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.