Democratic challenger Dan Williams is gaining on U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth in Idaho’s closest major race, according to a new poll.
With three weeks left until the election, Republican Chenoweth has just a 5-point lead, according to the poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research for The Idaho Spokesman-Review and two television stations. Chenoweth was favored by 46 percent to Williams’ 41 percent.
As the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, the race could be considered a statistical dead heat.
Chenoweth gained 4 percentage points since a similar poll last month, but Williams gained 6. The number of voters saying they are undecided in the race dropped from 23 percent to 10 percent.
Williams, who was traveling to Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday, said in a phone interview that he expects to pick up the remaining undecided voters.
“They already know about the incumbent,” he said. “They are just waiting to learn more about the challenger.”
Seventeen percent of those polled said they hadn’t heard of Dan Williams, but that figure has dropped significantly from September’s 36 percent and May’s 47 percent.
Ninety-nine percent had heard of Helen Chenoweth, the same figure as in September, up from 98 percent in May.
Chenoweth wasn’t available for comment Tuesday, but her campaign spokeswoman, Khris Bershers, said there’s some good news in the poll for the incumbent.
While 23 percent of those polled had favorable impressions of Williams, up from 19 percent last month, 21 percent had negative impressions, up from 14 percent. Thirty-nine percent were neutral.
“It does seem that the more people get to know him, the more they don’t like him,” Bershers said.
Chenoweth had a 47 percent favorable rating, up from 40 percent. Her negatives were at 40 percent, up from 36 percent.
Del Ali, vice president of the polling firm, said, “Voters in the 1st District are not ambivalent in their feelings toward Chenoweth: They either love her or hate her.”
Bershers agreed with that assessment. “She’s not a fence straddler; you know where she stands. So you know if you disagree with her and you know if you agree with her.”
Asked to rate Chenoweth’s performance in Congress, 45 percent called it excellent or good while 51 percent rated it fair or poor. Of those, 33 percent chose “poor.”
Williams called that “a staggeringly high percentage.”
“For an incumbent to have an outright majority say that she’s only doing fair or poor is very telling,” he said. “It just shows that a majority do not like the job she’s doing.”
Bershers disagreed. “The only reason I think people would say she was doing a poor job was if they were Democrats or already had their minds made up,” she said. “Those aren’t people who are really looking at her job performance. They’re just looking at the ‘R’ behind her name.”
Williams now leads Chenoweth by 4 points among women voters, the poll showed, while Chenoweth is 14 points ahead among male voters.
“That’s interesting considering she is a woman,” Bershers said. “That one kind of baffles me a bit.”
Williams said the 21 percent with negative views of him are hard-core Chenoweth supporters. “That’s not surprising for someone like me who’s not well-known yet,” he said. “What you’re picking out are the very, very strong supporters of Helen Chenoweth who, just as a reflex, have an unfavorable opinion about me.”
He said he’ll work in the next three weeks to meet as many Idahoans as possible. Williams plans a campaign bus tour next week from one end of the sprawling district to the other.
Chenoweth has been traveling for several days on Republican Sen. Larry Craig’s campaign bus tour.
Chenoweth and Williams are scheduled to face off in a debate Thursday evening in Coeur d’Alene, sponsored by The Idaho Spokesman-Review.
The poll found that 2nd District Rep. Mike Crapo has kept his commanding lead over Democratic challenger John Seidl, with Crapo at 68 percent and Seidl at 16 percent. That’s down from the 71-13 split a month ago but still shows that Crapo is assured of re-election, Ali said.
Sixty percent of those polled had favorable impressions of Crapo.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: House race tightens as voters decide