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Establishment Republicans Swamp Conservatives In Idaho GOP Primary Campaign

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Tom Williams via Getty Images
Tom Williams via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- A host of D.C.-based corporate lobbying groups have banded together to protect Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) from a tea party primary challenge by spending massively in support of his campaign. The normally low-interest congressional race in Idaho has attracted the most independent spending of any House primary race of 2014.

In Tuesday's Republican primary, Simpson will face off against state Rep. Bryan Smith, a conservative who has lambasted Simpson's more moderate positions and his support for earmarks. Where Smith has been boosted by the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project, Simpson has received huge support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Realtors, the American Dental Association and Defending Main Street Super PAC, among other groups.

These establishment groups have already won a string of victories in the early 2014 primary campaigns. To notch another they have invested more than $2 million into the Idaho House primary race to swamp the Club for Growth and other ultra-conservative groups. (None of the independent groups supporting Smith have spent significant amounts since the end of April.)

Source: Center for Responsive Politics.

Simpson has attracted support from a range of groups with overlapping priorities in Washington -- chief among them to keep pro-business incumbents in office.

Simpson draws his support from the ADA due to the fact he is one of the few dentists in Congress. The American Hospital Association is spending money to boost Simpson for the same reason.

The National Association of Realtors relies on incumbents who have a long record of supporting its priorities of maintaining tax breaks for homeowners and loosening lending standards. Simpson, who has been in Congress for 20 years, has been called a "champion" by the trade association.

Defending Main Street Super PAC was formed by former Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette as a vehicle to fight the influence of the tea party and elect more mainstream Republicans. The group has been largely funded by labor unions, including the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Laborers International Union of North America. This makes Simpson the rare candidate boosted by the bitter rivals in labor and the Chamber of Commerce.

Since the rise of the tea party in 2009, establishment Republicans have avoided involvement in internecine primary battles, which has allowed the grassroots candidates to rack up victories that, according to those who run the party, have cost it seats in the past two elections.

Establishment Republicans point to the primary victories of Sharron Angle in Nevada, Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Todd Akin in Missouri, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Joe Miller in Alaska as key examples in which unvetted conservative candidates won the primary, but lost important general elections.

Since those defeats, the mainstream Republican Party has made a point of fighting back to protect its interests.

"The Tea Party has lots of good ideas," Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue told Fox Business in January, "but those people are not helping us."

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