Election Central

As NPR declares Smith-Simpson a bellwether, BIPAC’s Casey back in town

National Public Radio star David Greene will spend the week in Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District because he says the race between tea party challenger Bryan Smith and eight-term GOP Rep. Mike Simpson is a “bellwether” on the battle for control of the national Republican Party.

Greene was to arrive Monday in Idaho Falls, according to a story this morning by Boise State Public Radio’s Scott Graf. He’ll be joined by producer Arnie Seipel, who interviewed Statesman reporters Rocky Barker and Sven Berg before heading West from the “Morning Edition” studios in Washington, D.C. Their first report is set to air nationally on Thursday.

Garnering national attention doesn’t happen much in Republican dominated Idaho, but a visit from another Beltway pilgrim may prove more significant in the outcome of the May 20 GOP primary.

Idaho native Greg Casey, who is president and CEO of the Washington-based Business Industry Political Action Committee, was in Boise last week following up on his promise to counter the millions expected to be spent by Club for Growth and other outside groups against Simpson.

“We’re here because of Club for Growth,” Casey said Friday during a visit to the Statehouse. “They picked this fight.”

Smith won the Club’s first endorsement of the 2014 cycle in June, instantly making the first-time candidate credible because of the prospect of a $1 million-plus ad campaign against Simpson. Since then, the club has endorsed four more candidates including Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., a close friend of Idaho 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador.

Casey and three BIPAC senior vice presidents spent 3-1/2 hours Wednesday with leaders of 35 Idaho associations, among them Norm Semanko of the Idaho Water Users, Wayne Hammon of the Associated General Contractors and Jack Lyman of the Idaho Mining Association.

They met in the boardroom of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which Casey ran as president from 1986-90. In August, IACI President Alex LaBeau announced the creation of the Gem State Prosperity Fund as a federal Super PAC aimed at supporting Simpson.

“We talked about how the business community needs to up its game on the grassroots,” Casey said. “My goal is to work with them to motivate Idahoans to turn out voters that ordinarily wouldn’t vote in a closed Republican primary and to make the business community better at advocating their interests.”

Founded in 1963, BIPAC was the nation’s first business PAC; its members include a majority of the Fortune 100 U.S. companies. With affiliates in 48 states, the group says it manages the largest business grassroots network in the country, engaging employees to lobby policymakers and support business-friendly candidates. BIPAC also makes over $500,000 in PAC contributions in biennial congressional elections. Casey has run BIPAC since 1999. He was former Idaho GOP Sen. Larry Craig’s chief of staff during Craig’s first term, 1990-96, and sergeant at arms of the U.S. Senate from 1996-99.

Casey, who grew up in Boise and has a house in Star, is a proselytizer on employers using the internet, including email, text messaging and social media, to motivate voters.

“Think of the modern age as electronic campfires,” Casey said, describing virtual meeting places where people gather to swap stories with those they trust.

“In the age of information self-selection, the credibility of the source becomes the primary determinant of whether a message has impact,” Casey said. “In most instances, if not all, the employer is the most credible source. We’ll arm employers with sophisticated tools to educate, motivate and turn out employees.”

Casey said Club for Growth, which gets the bulk of its money from a small number of wealthy people, can’t match the reach of BIPAC’s huge employer network. “Club for Growth likes to say they represent business interests but they represent a narrow group of people who think they know better than anybody else.”

Casey offered this measure of BIPAC’s high-tech reach: During the second presidential debate in 2012 between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on Oct. 16, BIPAC’s Twitter feed attracted 67 million impressions, more than the Romney or Obama campaigns. “This is a medium that is becoming dominant,” Casey said.

Like Club for Growth, BIPAC’s advocacy will operate independently of the candidates.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics