Dan Williams has a tough task ahead of him if he plans to challenge freshman Rep. Helen Chenoweth for her 1st Congressional District seat.
Williams just returned emptyhanded from a trip to Washington, D.C., where he checked in with the Democratic Party and political consultants about his chances.
The paucity of his efforts points up a major problem any Democrat will have in a campaign against Chenoweth, who outspent two-term incumbent Larry LaRocco while riding the GOP’s landslide into office.
Still, Williams, a 32-year-old Boise lawyer, thinks Chenoweth is vulnerable, depicting her as an extremist and a friend of militant organizations such as the ones with links to the Oklahoma City bombing.
“It’s been made clear to everyone that she is on the far-right fringe and is playing footsie with the militia groups,” he said. “There are a lot of people in Idaho and the rest of the country who are offended at that.”
Even so, Williams hasn’t officially entered the race.
“I’m putting together an organization and getting people involved through the district,” said Williams, who is contemplating his first major electoral bid.
“I do think that because she is so extreme, so outspoken, that there are a lot of people in Idaho who are very motivated that she no longer is the congressman in the 1st District,” he said.
“I’m not ready to make an announcement, but it is extremely likely,” he said this past week.
It became more likely when Williams got a telephone call from former state Sen. Mike Blackbird.
State Chairman Bill Mauk and others were talking about the prospect of Blackbird challenging Chenoweth. But Williams said Blackbird agreed to become his North Idaho co-chairman.
Still, Williams has a long way to go.
Most political observers feel Chenoweth could be the most vulnerable of the three Republicans who will be at the top of the ticket in 1996.
So far, there is no one out raising money to campaign against GOP Sen. Larry Craig. And Democrats have no idea who they can run against Michael Crapo, who has made few mistakes in Congress.
Williams has been active in the state party, and a few years ago lost to veteran GOP Rep. Kathleen Gurnsey of Boise in a legislative race. He worked as counsel to former governor Cecil Andrus and helped Larry LaRocco and Richard Stallings in congressional campaigns.
But mostly, he’s known only to political insiders. So far, that hasn’t helped his bank account, which will be a deciding factor.
If Chenoweth gets the same kind of support next time, her record $781,160 spending for the campaign seems impossible for a relative unknown to match.
Chenoweth listed $170,190 in debts at the end of 1994, but as an incumbent, it’s far easier for her to raise money than it will be for Williams. Her campaign staff said she has cut about $10,000 from the debt but hopes to have it wiped out by the end of the year.
Republicans in general and the conservatives in particular did a far better job organizing and getting out the vote last November. Both Chenoweth and GOP Gov. Phil Batt ran behind in the polls for months but won going away.
Democratic leaders talk about trying to offset that edge in the next election but haven’t shown they can.
Williams’ biggest hope is the militia question and the links between militant groups and the Oklahoma City bombing.
Chenoweth’s first statements indicated some support for militia organizations, to the point where she’s been flooded with calls from national media. Mauk calls her the “poster child” for the militia movement.
Chenoweth immediately tried to limit the damage, insisting she in no way supports the “murderers” involved in the Oklahoma City tragedy. Still, a videotape of her comments is being sold for $15 by one militia group, although she claims it’s without her permission.
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