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Chenoweth Survives Challenge Freshman Republican Promises More Maturity In Her Second Term

U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth defeated challenger Dan Williams Tuesday, saying voters will see a new, more mature Helen Chenoweth in a second term.

“I’ll pursue the same goals,” she said. But she added, “I’ve learned a lot, and I think that I’ve matured a lot the last two years, through a very hard-working House session and a very difficult campaign.”

“That causes anyone to mature or go through a meltdown, and the latter was not an alternative,” she said, laughing.

Leaning back in a soft chair in a hotel room packed with supporters who quietly watched election results on TV, Chenoweth said, “I hope that the exposure in the national media goes away, and I can just concentrate on Idaho issues.”

Chenoweth’s first term has been marked by controversy, particularly after her refusal to denounce the militia movement after the Oklahoma City bombing drew national attention.

Chenoweth maintained all along that she has given voters just what she promised, by sticking to her deeply conservative, Christian, pro-industry agenda on issues from abortion to endangered species.

After hours spent giving interviews and greeting supporters in a hot, overcrowded ballroom Tuesday night, Chenoweth said she still didn’t understand why she was “targeted.”

She said she thought ads run against her by the AFL-CIO overshadowed campaign efforts on her behalf and forced her into a close race.

But Williams said, “If anything, I think the negative ads … have probably canceled each other out in the voters’ minds. Helen still had the advantage of the real powerful PAC dollars.”

Williams, who watched nationwide results closely on TV, clicking from channel to channel, said, “An overwhelming number of incumbents in Congress will be reelected from both parties, because of the overwhelming advantage incumbents have in special-interest PAC money.”

That shows the need for campaign finance reform, he said.

Williams said, “The campaign has gone just about as well as I could’ve hoped. The response from the people of Idaho has been as good as I could’ve wanted, running against an incumbent member of Congress.”

He added, “I really believe I did everything I possibly could do.”

Chenoweth, who dropped everything Tuesday night to chat on a cellular phone to Spokane radio talk show host Richard Clear, said she, too, favors campaign finance reform.

“This may be where we butt heads with the White House big-time,” she told Clear, chuckling.

Chenoweth, 58, is a former aide to Sen. Steve Symms and a natural resources consultant who surprised two better-known opponents in the 1994 Republican primary, then defeated two-term Democratic Rep. Larry LaRocco in that year’s Republican sweep.

Williams, 34, is a Boise attorney who has represented the Idaho Democratic Party and then-Gov. Cecil Andrus. He ran for the state House in 1990, failing by just 1 percent to unseat a longtime Republican representative.

Williams was little-known outside Boise and Democratic circles, but began his campaign for Congress more than a year before the election. With backing from Andrus and Idaho Democratic icon Bethine Church, widow of the late Sen. Frank Church, Williams presented himself as a moderate consensus-builder.

Much of the campaign focused on each candidate’s differing spin on Chenoweth’s record in Congress. Even though Williams’ biggest selling point on that score was that he’s not Chenoweth, polls showed him with substantial and growing support throughout the campaign season.

Chenoweth and Williams are on opposite sides of issues from turning federal lands over to states - she supports it, he opposes it - to increasing restrictions on abortion, which she supports and he opposes. The two agree on gun control: both oppose it.

Medicare figured as a major issue in the campaign, with the national AFL-CIO running ads accusing Chenoweth and other congressional Republicans of trying to cut the popular program that provides medical care to seniors.

Chenoweth responded angrily that the ads were misleading.

Republicans say they merely wanted to slow the growth of the program - not to cut it. In the end, Congress approved a plan that slowed the growth less than the Republicans originally wanted.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

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