The nation’s most powerful gun-rights group is dipping its toes in the heated primary race for Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District, the scene of the latest skirmish between establishment Republicans and Tea Party conservatives. The NRA’s $33,000 Internet ad buy touting incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson comes just weeks after the veteran Republican’s introduction of the Firearm Importation Fairness Act of 2014, which, according to the congressman’s website writes would “prevent the U.S. Attorney General from arbitrarily blocking the importation of commonly owned and used firearms by American citizens.” The same press release includes a statement from the Executive Director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, Chris Cox: “I’d like to thank the congressman for his leadership on this issue and his steadfast commitment to our Second Amendment freedoms.”
A few weeks later the NRA Political Victory Fund (its campaign finance arm) reported the Internet advertisement supporting Simpson, who faces a primary challenge from political newcomer Bryan Smith.
The ad buy puts the NRA at odds with upstart conservative organizations like Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth, who have combined to spend a little more than $125,000 in independent expenditures supporting Smith, a small business owner, in the May 20 primary. Simpson — who has represented the eastern half of Idaho for 16 years — holds the gun rights group’s coveted “A” rating. But the Club for Growth is decrying him as a “pro-bailout, pro-debt” Washington insider.
The NRA’s Political Victory Fund enters the heated Idaho primaries fresh off a victory in the Sunshine State, where the group chipped in just over $120,000 to help Republican David Jolly win a special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. As in Florida, the NRA will have plenty of help. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a campaign finance behemoth, has already spent $350,000 supporting Simpson and the center-right Defending Main Street Super PAC has also poured $100,000 into the race state political operatives are calling a “proxy war” for the GOP’s establishment-populist clash.
The incumbent congressman has also benefited from “issue ads” from the powerful American Chemistry Council, extolling his record as a job creator and urging the electorate to call and tell Mike Simpson to “keep fighting for Idaho jobs.”
As for the hard money side of the equation, the NRA Political Victory Fund has also contributed to Simpson’s campaign coffers, sending a total of $4,000 to the incumbent’s campaign in August and September of last year. The incumbent’s war chest still trumps that of his opponent. Simpson, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has pulled in contributions from a host of political committees inside the Beltway in addition to those from in-state donors. The congressman had around $790,000 in his campaign’s account at the start of the new year, compared to Smith’s $373,000. Visit Real-Time FEC to explore all of the contributions and independent expenditures made in this race.
Sunlight asked the National Rifle Association how much it plans to spend in the Idaho contest, but so far, no one has returned our call. We’ll update this post if anyone does.