Democratic congressional challenger Dan Williams, within striking distance of pulling off an upset, used an hour-long televised debate Friday night to try to paint conservative Republican Rep. Helen Chenoweth as an extremist out of touch with mainstream Idaho.
“We can elect someone who will try to be a reasonable, moderate voice for Idaho or we can have another two years of divisiveness and rhetoric,” Williams said. “It isn’t just that it embarrasses us in Idaho, the problem is that it keeps us from having good highways, jobs moving into the state and it hurts tourism. These are realworld effects.”
But while Chenoweth was often forced on the defensive, she repeatedly cited the hundreds of thousands of dollars organized labor has put behind the Williams campaign, working to portray the Boise lawyer as a liberal in the pocket of the nation’s unions.
“The real embarrassment in this election has been multiple ads that have been run to the point that people are exhausted,” Chenoweth declared. “Mr. Williams and his cohorts have succeeded in turning people off to the system.”
The often combative debate at Boise State University came barely 80 hours before balloting begins on Tuesday to decide a race the most recent independent poll showed to be a dead heat.
Natural Law Party candidate Marion Ellis protested her exclusion from the session sponsored by KTVB-TV, The Idaho Statesman and the Student Programs Board at Boise State University.< In a statement she rejected the justification that she did not have a reasonable chance of winning the race that is a tossup between Chenoweth and Williams. On that basis, Ellis argued, Republican Bob Dole should have been excluded from this year’s presidential debates.
Both Chenoweth and Williams accused the other of misrepresenting their positions and misstating the facts on a myriad of issues.
They split on the pending One Percent Initiative - Chenoweth endorsing the proposition GOP Gov. Phil Batt strongly opposes while Williams sided with the governor.
It was the same on resolving the long-running debate over Idaho’s roadless areas. Williams said he would abandon any comprehensive approach for the millions of acres still in dispute and try settling it on a parcel by parcel basis involving the people in each area. Chenoweth simply rejected any additional wilderness designation.
The pair sparred as they have throughout the sometimes bitter campaign over Medicare, welfare reform, partial birth abortion and restoring the salmon runs.
But Williams hit hard at the instances where Chenoweth’s positions have put her at odds not only with his but with those of the other three members of Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation - ending the government shutdown last winter, increased funding for education programs, and a get-tough policy on deadbeat parents similar to the one Batt adopted.