TWIN FALLS - U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who has held Idaho's 2nd District seat for 16 years, repeated throughout the debate Friday night his pride in his conservative record.
His opponent, attorney Bryan Smith, touted the fact that he is not a "career politician" and attacked Simpson's voting ledger as being too liberal.
The debate, hosted by the Times-News and moderated by Editor Autumn Phillips, was held at Canyon Ridge High School before a crowd of more than 200.
Though the debate remained mostly civil, Simpson and Smith showed irritation when either was accused of being liberal.
"You can go out and misrepresent and lie all you want to, but I'm going to set the record straight," Simpson said.
Smith said he agrees with all of the Idaho Republican Party platform sent to all GOP candidates to sign. Simpson was one of the top Idaho politicians not to endorse it completely.
"I agree with the ... platform of the state," Smith said. "Simpson would not agree. He agreed to the preamble. You know why? Because Congressman Simpson is just too liberal."
The crowd took turns applauding for each candidate. Many of Smith's supporters wore bright yellow shirts reading, "Bryan Smith, U.S. Congress."
"Oh, it's getting nasty," one listener muttered as the candidates argued over Simpson's voting record in the House.
On federal grazing fees, Smith said he favors Idaho taking control of all its federal land. Later, he said the state and the nation don't need the Environmental Protection Agency.
"It's a fundamental issue. The state of Idaho should be able to manage its own lands," Smith said, echoing a popular refrain this year among Republicans from western states.
Simpson said that even if Idaho succeeded in taking back federal public lands - which is highly unlikely - the state still would be subject to the Endangered Species Act and thorough environmental reviews.
If Smith thinks otherwise, Simpson said, he's living in a "fantasy."
Responding to a question on immigration reform, Simpson said the first challenge is to secure the nation's borders.
"Then you need to have a guest worker program that actually works," he said, noting that he opposes immediately deporting anyone who entered the country illegally.
Smith agreed that strengthening the nation's borders is the No. 1 priority and said there should be no amnesty for those who enter the country illegally.
On gun control, Simpson noted that he has the endorsement of the NRA because of his strong support of the Second Amendment. Smith said he is a lifelong NRA member who doesn't always support that association's endorsements.
The final debate between Simpson and Smith will take place in Boise on May 11. It will be hosted by Idaho Public Television, the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters.