WASHINGTON — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching ads backing eight-term Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, who faces a primary challenge in Idaho, and two GOP candidates in West Virginia as the business organization ramps up its political activity for next year's congressional elections.
The Chamber's involvement in Idaho marks the second time in recent months that the group has taken sides in the internal Republican fight pitting the GOP establishment against conservative activists. The group backed Bradley Byrne over tea party favorite Dean Young in a special congressional runoff primary in Alabama, pumping at least $200,000 into the race. Byrne won the Nov. 5 contest.
Simpson is facing a challenge from lawyer Bryan Smith, who has the endorsement of the anti-tax Club for Growth. The conservative group has helped topple Republican incumbents in past primaries, including longtime Sen. Richard Lugar, although the GOP later lost the general election in Indiana last year.
The Club for Growth describes Simpson, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, as one of the "biggest Republican-in-name-only" members of Congress.
Not so, says the Chamber television ad that begins airing Friday. The Associated Press obtained advance copies of the commercials.
"Mike Simpson, conservative, Idaho strong," intones the announcer. The spot says that the nation's free enterprise system is under attack and shows an image of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi wielding a gavel.
"Pelosi and her allies want more government spending and more regulations. No way," says the commercial. "Mike Simpson is fighting back, working for a balanced budget, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, fixing the Obamacare mess."
The commercial makes no mention of his primary opponent.
Responding to the Chamber ad, the Club for Growth on Thursday criticized Simpson for backing the 2008 financial bailout, among other complaints, and said it wasn't surprised that he was "receiving support from his allies in Washington."
The ads come early in the primary process -- Idaho's contest is May 20 -- and underscore how business-oriented groups are stepping up their involvement as a counter to outside conservative organizations. Republicans rode the tea party wave of 2010 to a House majority, but many conservatives have been less than hospitable to business priorities while Speaker John Boehner has struggled to govern with his fractious caucus.
Rob Engstrom, national political director for the Chamber, said the ads mark the start of the organization's voter education effort as it looks to "protect and expand the pro-business majority in the House and gain seats in the Senate."
"We will aggressively back candidates who support the American free enterprise system and economic growth, and oppose those who stand in the way," Engstrom said. "The focus is on conservative, pro-job, pro-business candidates who will ensure that former Speaker Pelosi keeps her title."
Engstrom described the ad buys in Idaho and West Virginia as significant but declined to provide a dollar figure.
Two officials who monitor ad buys said the Chamber is spending slightly more than $84,000 in Idaho's Boise, Idaho Falls and Twin Falls markets on the Simpson ad and more than $105,000 on broadcast and cable in the House race in West Virginia.
Details about the subject of the ads emerged prior to when outside groups file notices on spending with the Federal Election Commission.
The Chamber is running an ad this week backing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., highlighting his challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency over regulations on coal production.
"A fighter who never lets Kentucky down," the Chamber says of McConnell in the ad that is airing now through Dec. 12 at a cost of $181,500, according to the latest report from the FEC.
Coal is also the subject for the Chamber's commercial backing Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the seven-term lawmaker who is considered a favorite to capture the Senate seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
Capito, according to the Chamber, is "fighting back against the Obama administration's war on coal." The spot, which begins airing Thursday, describes her as a strong conservative who will "stand up for all of West Virginia. She's one of us."
President Barack Obama's health care law is the main topic in the Chamber's ad for Evan Jenkins, the Democrat-turned-Republican state lawmaker who is challenging 19-term Democratic Rep. Nick J. Rahall in the expansive 3rd Congressional District in southern West Virginia.
"Evan knows Obamacare's a mess. Jobs at risk. Health care premiums rising," says the commercial. "West Virginia can't afford Obamacare. It's time for change."
The spot calls Jenkins "West Virginia strong."