Dan Popkey: Idaho Rep. Labrador won't endorse Simpson

Both congressmen say they continue to work together on behalf of Idaho.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comAugust 8, 2013 


    Last week, columnist Chris Carlson wrote of the "fact that Rep. (Raul) Labrador is responsible for recruiting the Club for Growth to underwrite Idaho Falls attorney and TeaPartyite Bryan Smith's primary challenge against longtime Second District Congressman Mike Simpson."

    In a follow-up column Tuesday, Carlson acknowledged that he couldn't cite a source for his claim, but upped the ante after Labrador didn't immediately respond to an offer to correct the record.

    "Thus far there's been no response and in this business silence is tantamount to assent," wrote Carlson in a column that appeared in the Twin Falls Times-News and St. Maries Gazette Record.

    Later Tuesday, Labrador wrote Carlson with a flat denial: "I did not recruit Bryan Smith for the Club for Growth." The Republican asked Carlson to "stop spreading this lie."

    On Wednesday, Carlson told Labrador that he will retract the claim in both papers with a third column on the topic. "He's right. Absent some corroborating sources, it was wrong of me to speculate on so important a subject, and it was and is unfair to him."

    Labrador told the Statesman that he's met Smith only three or four times. "If I was going to go after somebody, I would probably pick one of my friends. And I would be pretty upfront about taking somebody on."

    In 2008, Labrador openly helped oust Gov. Butch Otter's choice for chairman of the Idaho Republican Party.

    Labrador reportedly is still weighing a challenge to Otter in the 2014 primary. Asked for an update, Labrador said his decision is "coming soon."

Though they deny it, the breach between Idaho's only two members of the U.S. House of Representatives might be widening.

Rep. Raul Labrador says he won't observe the longstanding custom of endorsing fellow Republican Rep. Mike Simpson over primary foe Bryan Smith.

Smith is courting the GOP's right wing, where Labrador is popular.

Neither will Labrador say whether he considers Simpson a conservative. "You know," Labrador said Wednesday, "I said I wouldn't speak about the race."

Simpson, however, says he will back Labrador over primary challenger Michael Greenway. "Well, let me just say I'm supporting Raul," Simpson said Wednesday.

But the pair also have abandoned plans to raise campaign money together. In June, a joint political action committee, the Simpson-Labrador Victory Fund, was shut down after two years. "It just never panned out," Simpson said.

The PAC, which raised no money, was closed by Labrador's treasurer, Cordell Chigbrow.

Sharp and personal differences became public in January, when Simpson blasted Labrador for leading a tea party faction that attempted to overthrow House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The effort was prompted by Boehner's support of ending Bush-era breaks on the top 2 percent of taxpayers.

Simpson called Labrador, who received a vote for speaker, "irresponsible" and said he had "substantially lost credibility." Labrador replied that Simpson was a "bully" and an "old-school legislator who went to Washington, D.C., to compromise."

In announcing his challenge to Labrador last month, Greenway called Labrador's gambit "childish" and an "act of betrayal."

Last week, the newspaper Roll Call put Labrador on a Top 10 list of possible replacements for Boehner, saying he could get the job if the anti-tax group Club for Growth succeeds in ousting enough incumbents in GOP primaries. The group has endorsed Smith, an Idaho Falls lawyer, and made Simpson its No. 1 target.

Asked whether he aspires to be speaker, Labrador said, "I have no comment on that. I'd like to see strong conservatives in Washington, D.C. That's what I stand for."

But Labrador said he isn't knocking Simpson.

"In general, I want conservatives in the House," Labrador said. "That doesn't mean anything (in the 2nd District race). I wasn't speaking about Mike Simpson. I wasn't speaking about Bryan Smith. You guys in the media are trying to create a rift between me and Mike. We have no rift."

Simpson said he takes no offense.

"My job is to get along with whoever the 1st Congressional District elects to represent them," Simpson said. "I've gotten along with (1st District GOP Reps.) Butch (Otter), with Helen (Chenoweth) and with Bill (Sali), and also with (Walt) Minnick from the other party. And with Raul. I wouldn't see this as a rift. It doesn't bother me that he's going to remain neutral."

Labrador cited a precedent: He didn't endorse Mitt Romney until that race was all but over. "I don't get involved in primaries, especially when I have friends on both sides," he said.

Simpson contributed $4,000 to Labrador in 2010 and $1,000 in 2012. Laughing, he said he will give again, "if he wants it."

As for voters who might be concerned about an absence of cooperation, Simpson said not to worry. "I don't really think it hurts Idaho. We get along on the issues that are important to the state," he said.

Labrador said his deputy chief of staff and Simpson's chief of staff had lunch in Washington on Monday. "We're trying to work together. You guys keep fanning the flames that don't exist," he said.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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