Facing what appears to be his toughest re-election campaign in eight tries, Idaho Republican Congressman Mike Simpson says he’s asking supporters to pony up more dough.
Simpson expects the Washington, D.C., anti-tax group Club for Growth to spend between $1 million and $2 million backing tea party challenger Bryan Smith of Idaho Falls in the May 2014 GOP primary.
So far, Simpson said, Smith is the only credible challenger to 10 GOP House targets on the Club’s list.
“We have to raise enough money to be able to compete and challenge them and respond and put our own message out,” Simpson said.
On Monday, Simpson is charging $50 a head for a Boise lunch featuring the most powerful Republican in the country, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner also will appear at a private event for high-rollers who have contributed the $2,600 maximum per election.
Simpson said he plans to ask more of supporters because of the Club For Growth’s involvement.
“It just means I’m going to have to be out raising money more than I have in the past,” Simpson told the Statesman editorial board Tuesday. “I’m not one of those that has $2 million in the bank waiting for a challenger. I’ve always told them, ‘If I need your help, I’ll let you know.’ Now, we’re raising the money that’s going to be necessary.”
Simpson hasn’t had a close race since he ran for the open 2nd District seat in 1998. Since then, he’s raised an average of $678,000 in seven re-election campaigns. His top year was 2012, at $1.2 million, the low mark was $343,000 in 2002.
Simpson had about $66,000 to start the year, raised $393,000 in the first six months of 2013 and had $335,000 in cash as of June 30.
Simpson has hired veteran fundraiser Travis Hawkes, the owner of the Boise State-themed Blue & Orange store. Hawkes raised $6 million in Idaho for Mitt Rommey’s 2012 presidential bid. He’s also hired another high-profile Idahoan, Todd Cranney, Romney’s national deputy political director.
Simpson said he doesn’t have a budget target yet and that his campaign team is meeting late this month to plan.
He touted his home-grown staff and took a subtle shot at Smith.
“They know Idaho, they’re from Idaho, which I think is important,” Simpson said. “We haven’t parachuted anybody in from Pennsylvania.”
A first time candidate and Idaho Falls lawyer, Smith’s campaign manager is Carrie Brown, a 20-something who worked on campaigns in Pennsylvania before coming to Idaho this summer.
Simpson said he won’t take the safe route favored by some incumbents facing insurgent campaigns and refuse to meet Smith in debate.
“Oh, we’re going to have debates, I’m sure,” Simpson said. “I’ve never refused to debate anybody. I think they’re important.”
Simpson said he’s confident voters will re-elect him “when they see our record and what we’ve done and what we are doing.”
“All I want is an honest debate,” he said. “If the people of Idaho decide they want somebody else to represent them, that’s fine with me. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
Already, another independent group is engaged in the race. The American Chemistry Council has been running pro-Simpson TV ads in recent weeks. Organizations like the Chemistry Council and Club for Growth are prohibited from coordinating with candidates.
Simpson, who saw the ad for the first time while watching the news, joked: “I said, ‘That’s a good guy; I’m going to vote for him.’ There’s going to be a lot of spin, but it just goes to show you that I’m willing to do almost anything to help the economy of Idaho!”