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Conservative Group Picks Primary Fight With GOP Incumbent

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Conservative Group Picks Primary Fight With GOP Incumbent

Conservative Group Picks Primary Fight With GOP Incumbent

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

An influential conservative group is going after a longtime Republican congressman from Idaho well in advance of the 2014 primary. Representative Mike Simpson has held his seat for more than a decade. And NPR's Tamara Keith reports Simpson is just the first of many targets on this group's list.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The group is the Club for Growth. And the candidate is Bryan Smith, a lawyer from Idaho Falls. The club describes him as a fiscal conservative, anti-tax and pro-growth.

He's the first candidate endorsed through a website the club launched earlier this year called primarymycongressman.com. It features a picture of a rhinoceros, a RINO, as in Republican in name only. And it asks people to submit the names of representatives in safe GOP seats who aren't conservative enough. Chris Chocola, president of the club, says Smith was suggested by several people as a possible challenger.

CHRIS CHOCOLA: We reached out to him, we got to know him, and we are very impressed with what we found.

KEITH: Chocola calls the incumbent Simpson one of the biggest liberals in the Republican Party today. With the club's endorsement comes conservative street cred and money. Chocola says the club's members are very generous.

CHOCOLA: And they actually send the checks to us, and we literally put all those checks in an envelope and send them to Bryan. And so he gets a big envelope with a lot of money in it, which is probably a good day for him.

KEITH: In a press release, Simpson's campaign said it had raised more than $300,000 in the second quarter of this year. And Simpson said he's confident in his conservative record. Norm Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

NORM ORNSTEIN: By no stretch of the imagination could you look at Mike Simpson's voting record and call him a moderate. He is very conservative.

KEITH: But he did vote for the fiscal cliff deal and the Wall Street bailout. Ornstein says Simpson is among the increasingly rare breed of congressmen willing to compromise to get something done. And for that, he is paying a price.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE SIMPSON: There's an intimidation factor here that's immense. And the people who are behind it, they know if they pick out a handful of examples and go after them, that's going to shape the behavior of large numbers of others.

KEITH: There are nine more Republicans listed on primarymycongressman.com. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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