Election Central

New cop on the beat: Berg taking over Statesman’s 2nd CD coverage

My Statesman colleague Sven Berg posted his first story this morning on the already bitter primary race between insurgent Bryan Smith and eight-term Republican Congressman Mike Simpson.

Smith-Simpson is considered one of the top contests in the nation, pitting Simpson, a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner and a creature of the GOP’s establishment wing, against Smith, a first-time candidate and tea party favorite. Both are drawing substantial money nationally and the airwaves will fill with ads paid for by national forces independent of the two official campaigns.

It’s fitting that Berg’s first story included a taste of the name-calling that’s marked the contest so far — Smith repeated his slur of Simpson as a “liberal” for voting for Thursday’s bipartisan budget deal, though Simpson’s lifetime rating with the American Conservative Union is 85 percent.

Simpson has called Smith a “personal-injury lawyer,” a moniker Smith’s campaign manager Carrie Brown rejects as “grossly misleading.” Fewer than 1 percent of Smith’s cases have been in the personal injury line, says Brown. Smith prefers the description “business litigator.”

The race began unusually early with Smith’s entry in June and his endorsement by the Club for Growth. The Club last played a major role in Idaho in 2006, when it helped elect GOP Congressman Bill Sali, who served one term.

Berg, who spent four years at the Idaho Falls Post Register, is well-positioned to cover a contest in which both GOP candidates make their homes in Idaho Falls.

Among Berg’s duties in Idaho Falls was following the Idaho National Laboratory, which Simpson has protected from funding cuts advocated by 1st District Republican Congressman Raul Labrador. Labrador enjoys substantial support from tea party groups and differed with Simpson on the big budget vote Thursday, one of a series of split votes on fiscal issues.

I’ve been following about 2nd District since June, but with a very busy election brewing from governor on down, we’re dividing responsibilities. I’ll be focusing on the governor’s race and key legislative contests. Our veteran colleague, Roland “Rocky” Barker, will follow the 1st Congressional District race, which currently features Labrador and state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

As the fields fill for other races, including the open secretary of state’s contest, we’ll assign reporting duties. Watch for online news on the Idaho Politics and Election Central blogs.

Berg may be reached at 377-6275 or sberg@idahostatesman.com. Barker is at 841-5921 and rbarker@idahostateman.com.

And, as our inimitable colleague Pete Zimowsky might say: “Happy voting!”

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