Arguably, Congressman Mike Simpson is Idaho's most powerful politician on the federal level. He has served in the U.S. House since 1999 and is a sitting member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which helps to set budgets and divvy out federal funds each year. Some have said that Simpson could earn a leadership post if Republicans reclaim the House in November's general elections.
All that could mean nothing if challengers have their way Tuesday. Simpson faces a primary challenge from state Rep. Russ Matthews, R-Idaho Falls, and Chick Heileson, a self-proclaimed student of the U.S. Constitution, and the final outcome of the race could hinge on one of Simpson's congressional votes in 2008.
Simpson has received flak from his opponents over the past few weeks for his 2008 vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP. In previous stories on IdahoReporter.com, Mathews said Simpson was out-of-step with the wills of Idahoans when he voted for the bill, which authorized the federal government to use $700 billion to bail out failing banks. Heileson said Simpson's vote for the program was simply unconstitutional. Simpson told IdahoReporter.com that he only voted for the measure after sensing immense and deep fear over the future of the country from Hank Paulson, Treasury secretary, and Ben Bernanke, chair of the Federal Reserve, during committee hearings on the bill. If Simpson loses Tuesday, his TARP vote is the likely reason why. One high-ranking Republican senator, Bob Bennett from Utah, was ousted earlier this month by delegates at that state's convention for supporting TARP.
Simpson's challengers may have a hard time convincing voters to take him down, considering his sizable lead in the polls and cash race. A poll conducted late last week found that 62 percent of voters in the 2nd Congressional District favor Simpson and none of his challengers register more than 10 percent support from the electorate. In the cash race, as of May 5, Simpson reported to the Federal Elections Commission that he had more than $200,000 on hand, while Mathews and Heileson each had less than $250 in their campaign coffers.
To unseat Simpson, both challengers will need a boost from those unhappy with Simpson's TARP vote. Both Heileson and Mathews suffer from something that Simpson doesn't: lack of name recognition, something inherently conquered as a result of being an incumbent. Mathews, who served in the Idaho State Legislature for six years, is known among a small electorate of voters as a result of his work there, but has been hampered in spreading his anti-Simpson and anti-TARP messages to other areas because of weak fundraising numbers. Heileson had the most work to do to raise his profile because he has never served in a publicly-elected office. He may have been able to bridge the name recognition gap using signs, social media outlets, and support from Tea Party activists.
Both Heileson and Mathews feel that recent health care reforms should be repealed or thrown out in the U.S. Supreme Court and that states should have the right to choose how they will handle health care fixes. Both also believe that the national debt, which now stands at more than $12 trillion, is something that must be dealt with or else it will lead to the demise of the United States. They believe that the federal government must reduce spending and cut programs that exhibit massive amounts of fraud and waste. Heileson took a curious approach during a debate earlier this month when he advocated cutting out the Department of Energy, an agency which funds the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), a huge source of jobs in the eastern portion of the state. Heilson told IdahoReporter.com that he isn't opposed to INL or the work it does, but that he does have problem with the federal government funding it.
All three candidates are opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants and each believes that the federal government must enforce its own immigration laws to solve the immigration crisis. Simpson and Heileson said that Congress should act to create a more efficient and streamlined guest worker program that will allow more people to come to the U.S. to work legally.
Voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose among Simpson, Heileson and Mathews. Whichever man prevails will face Brian Schad, an Independent from Idaho Falls, and Mike Crawford, a Democrat from Mountain Home, in November's general election. Simpson won re-election in 2008 by earning 72 percent of the vote.