At a statewide Republican convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, Saturday, that state’s junior senator, Bob Bennett, finishing his third term in the U.S. Senate, was prevented from seeking a fourth term for office in an electoral shocker that will likely have ripple effect for races across the West, if not the nation.
Bennett was ousted at the convention because many Republicans in ultra-conservative Utah felt the senator didn't vote like a true conservative during his time in office. In particular, voters focused on his 2008 vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as TARP, which was designed to provide cash relief to collapsing banking companies. Many advocates for TARP said the program was necessary to prevent total economic collapse, while opponents of the measure argued that it was not the role of the federal government to meddle in private sector affairs in that manner.
Closer to home, in 2008 Idaho had two members of its all-Republican congressional delegation support the measure. Former Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Mike Simpson, who still represents Idaho's 2nd Congressional District, both supported TARP. Sen. Mike Crapo, also still serving and up for re-election in 2010, and former Rep. Bill Sali, opposed the measure.
Simpson is up for election and facing a fierce primary challenge from Chick Heileson and state Rep. Russ Mathews, R-Idaho Falls. Simpson, previously a member of the Idaho Legislature, is in the second year of his sixth term in Congress. Both Heileson and Mathews have made it a point to attack Simpson on his TARP vote. Mathews told IdahoReporter.com that Simpson's vote was outrageous and helped lead the country "down an unsustainable path of debt." Heileson said simply that Simpson's support for the program was unconstitutional.
Simpson has always defended his vote as the proper and necessary move to prevent financial Armageddon in the United States. He told IdahoReporter.com Sunday that he realizes that most everyone in the state disagreed with the vote, but that he had to do what he felt right. "I thought it absolutely necessary to do something," he said. During the 2nd Congressional District debate Sunday night, Simpson said that he voted for the TARP package because he saw large amounts of fear in the eyes - and quivering lower lips - of Treasury Secretary Ben Bernanke and Federal Reserve Chair Hank Paulson. "Sometimes you have to make tough votes; that's the way it is," Simpson said.
As for Bennett's ouster Saturday in Utah, Simpson said that the senator had other problems than just his TARP vote. "He introduced a health care bill, as they tell, worse than Obamacare that passed. I think there were a lot of things that added up to his defeat yesterday."
Simpson wouldn't say if he is scared for his political future, but his opponents had no problem speculating about the congressman's well-being. When asked if he feels if Simpson is fearful for his career, Heileson said, "I would hope so." During the debate, Heileson said that Simpson has failed to vote with the U.S. Constitution about 50 percent of the time. Mathews said that he feels a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment in Idaho's 2nd District. When Mathews was asked if Simpson has reason to fear a failed re-election bid, Mathews said, "Yes, he does."
Utah, unlike Idaho, normally decides its nominee at the statewide convention. This year, however, two men, attorney Mike Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater, failed to capture 60 percent of required delegate votes to become the party's sole nominee. The two will face off in a primary election in June. Idaho voters in the 2nd District will choose among Simpson, Mathews, and Heileson on May 25.