Idaho GOP Torn By Civil War Primary

“Some people would describe it as conservative, then far-right conservative,” said Tom Luna, the chairman of the Republican state party. That “far-right” camp, Luna continued, “would call itself conservatives and everyone else moderates.”

“We’re probably a microcosm of many places in the country in some ways,” said Tommy Ahlquist, a developer who finished third in the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary.

The normally invisible secretary of state race illustrates the situation. Two out of three candidates running in the GOP primaries – state Sen. Mary Souza and state representative Dorothy Moon — said they did not believe President Joe Biden won the 2020 election fairly. Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, who oversees the election in the state’s most populous county, said Biden won the election.

“It’s just this national rhetoric, and running to a story created by Trump that he started when he knew he was going to lose, and started lying,” said Ahlquist, who is critical of the far-right list of candidates. “And that filters down to the Republicans in our state. And in a state as red as ours, that’s still the story, because that’s what they do to get elected.”

In the race for the state’s Attorney General, former Representative Raúl Labrador — one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus — and his allies have labeled five-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden a weak link in the national fight against Democrats.

According to ad-tracking company AdImpact, the Club for Growth, which has been in Congress for a long time in Labrador, has spent nearly $300,000 on TV ads. While the group has not formally endorsed Labrador, who finished second in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, they have gone after Wasden.

“Lawrence Wasden is not a general,” says the narrator of the Club ad, beating him for not participating in actions by multiple states that supported other GOP attorneys general — including the 2020 lawsuit led by the Texas attorney general , Ken Paxton, who tried to throw away the results of the last presidential election.

But it’s the governor’s race to headline the GOP primaries in Idaho, with Little facing a challenge from McGeachin after years of public feud between the two, especially over coronavirus policy. Their horn lockout reached a farcical level: More than once, McGeachin used her power as acting governor while Little was out of state to issue an executive order over the pandemic, which Little would angrily retract shortly after his return.

Little is one of two incumbent Republican governors Trump is opposing, joining Georgian government leader Brian Kemp, whose primaries against former Senator David Perdue are set to take place later this month. But unlike Kemp — who had a well-documented public split with Trump in 2020, over his reluctance to help Trump undo the election results — Little never publicly drew the former president’s ire.

McGeachin, however, was one of Trump’s early supporters. She also has ties to the far right, having appeared at the same conference hosted by a white nationalist who condemned and criticized Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). (McGeachin accused a Boise TV reporter of playing “by association” guilt by elevating the conference, saying she didn’t know the organizer before speaking.)

But unlike some other Republicans Trump has tried to brush aside, Little doesn’t cut a moderate profile, especially on social issues. He recently signed a state ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — which is being challenged in state court — while expressing that the bill’s enforcement mechanism could be “unconstitutional and unwise.”

Still, Little — a farmer by trade — hails from the party’s business wing, a distinction underlying many of the state’s primaries. The resentment stems in part from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, an arch-conservative group that has challenged so-called RINO politicians in the state, including a slew of within-party legislative battles this year.

“The more right-wing side of the party led by the Freedom Foundation and others – they are certainly not alone in this – have been encouraged by some of their successes, and therefore may have been more aggressive than what we have seen in some previous elections said Brent Hill, the former president of the Idaho state senate.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation has a particular media policy of not responding to reporters, believing that the “old news media are agenda-driven propagandists.”

Little’s allies have projected confidence in his bid. Still, the Republican Association of Governors took to the air this week in Idaho with ads to give Little a boost. According to AdImpact, the national commission placed a small purchase of about $21,000 on the state’s Fox News station that began running earlier this week and continues through the primaries.

Luna — the president of the state party who has remained neutral in the primaries — downplayed any suggestion the contests would hurt the GOP’s general election prospects in the ruby ​​state. The two wings “agree on 80 percent, but we have primaries to debate the 20 percent that we disagree with, and that’s what they do,” he said.

The race to replace McGeachin sees Scott Bedke, who has served as Speaker of the State House for the past decade, face off against Priscilla Giddings — a state representative who was censored and stripped of a commission after revealing the identity of a raped intern. had been revealed by a then state representative. (That lawmaker, Aaron von Ehlinger, resigned in April 2021 and was convicted last week.)

and Rep. Mike Simpson also faces a primary challenge from a handful of candidates — including attorney and board member Bryan Smith of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, who defeated Simpson in a challenge in 2014 — in a race that saw nearly $2 million in TV ad spend in a region where airtime is relatively cheap.

Smith — who has lent his campaign about $350,000 — has led the way in TV spending and has launched ads that will invade the congressman for twelve terms. Smith’s most aired ad calls Simpson a liberal and attacks him for “wanting to “break dams in the Snake River and get water from thousands of ranches and families in Idaho.”

And a super PAC called America Proud PAC has also ended up in Simpson. Their top ad calls him “anti-Trump” and resurfaces his criticism of Trump ahead of the 2016 election, noting that he voted in favor of a Jan. 6 committee in the House. The group has received the lion’s share of funding from a Boise man named Joe Russell.

But Simpson is not alone. He has air reinforcements from Defending Main Street, a long-running Republican group that supports candidates from the party’s business wing, along with air coverage from the American Dental Association. (Simpson was a practicing dentist before coming to Congress.)

In an interview, Simpson compared the Idaho Freedom Foundation to the Freedom Caucus, saying there were “business groups and others” in the state queuing up to oppose them.

“There is a lot of division within the Republican Party,” he said. “This is a really important election, I think, in which direction the Republican Party is going to turn. Not just in Idaho, but in the country.”

Ally Mutnick contributed to this report.

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