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Sounding Out Idaho Poll Finds Chenoweth Clinging To Slim Lead Election May Hinge On Undecided Voters

Thu., Sept. 12, 1996, midnight

U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth is hanging on to a slim 7-point lead over challenger Dan Williams, according to a new poll commissioned by The Idaho Spokesman-Review.

But 36 percent of Idahoans still haven’t heard of Democrat Williams, said pollster Del Ali of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research. If voters hear more about Williams between now and the election and they like what they hear, “he could pull it off.”

The poll, conducted last Thursday through Saturday by telephone, was done for the newspaper, KTVB-TV of Boise and KHQ-TV of Spokane. It queried 404 likely voters in the 1st Congressional District and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

Forty-two percent of those polled said they favor the Republican incumbent, while 35 percent picked Williams. That’s about the same split as a similar poll found in May.

But that leaves 23 percent undecided. Ali said undecided voters tend to vote for the challenger. That could be exaggerated in this race because nearly as many Idahoans have unfavorable views of Chenoweth as favorable views and because an incumbent with less than 50 percent support is considered vulnerable.

If the numbers remain the same until the election, Ali said he would expect at least seven of every 10 undecided voters to vote for Williams.

Chenoweth’s ratings were 40 percent favorable, 36 percent unfavorable and 23 percent neutral.

Williams drew 19 percent favorable ratings, 14 percent unfavorable and 31 percent neutral, with 36 percent not recognizing his name.

Khris Bershers, Chenoweth’s spokeswoman, said the poll brings her campaign good news: “The big-labor money that’s been pouring into this state in the form of negative advertising has not had the intended effect. Helen’s still ahead.”

The AFL-CIO has run TV ads statewide targeting Chenoweth for her votes on Medicare and employee pension plans.

Bershers also said she believes once Idahoans hear more about Williams’ stands on issues, they’ll like him less. And she discounted the impact of Chenoweth’s announcement this week - after the polling was completed - that she had failed to disclose a $50,000 loan from a former client on her congressional financial forms.

The lapse could bring Chenoweth ethics charges or even prosecution.

“Frankly, we’ve found that most voters in the state of Idaho are more concerned about education and Medicare and crime control than they are about a bunch of financial reports,” Bershers said.

“That’s what we get asked about: taxes, balancing the budget, and those three issues.”

Williams listed his priorities as “investing in education, protecting Medicare, balancing the budget by spreading the sacrifice, and bringing a reasonable voice to natural resource and environmental issues.”

Once people hear his views, he said, “They’re going to find that they’d rather have someone like Dan Williams who’s a Democrat in the tradition of Cecil Andrus, instead of someone like Helen Chenoweth who simply goes too far for a lot of Republicans.”

Williams said the poll, given its margin of error, shows him nearly even with Chenoweth. “If someone would’ve told me that even before we started our television and radio advertising, that we’d be neck and neck with someone who is known by 99 percent of the electorate, I would’ve said ‘you’re crazy.’

“But the fact is that we are roughly even with her even before very many people know who I am.”

The poll found significant differences between men and women on this race. Among men, Chenoweth has 47 percent support to Williams’ 32 percent. Among women, Williams was ahead, 38-37 with 25 percent undecided.

In other poll results:

U.S. Rep. Mike Crapo drew 73 percent support in the 2nd Congressional District, compared with Democratic challenger John Seidl’s 13 percent.

Crapo’s ratings were 63 percent favorable, 9 percent unfavorable, and 26 percent neutral, while 55 percent hadn’t heard of Seidl.

“Frankly, it doesn’t matter if everybody knows him, he’s got no chance against Crapo,” Ali said. “Here you have a very popular incumbent. People like Mike Crapo.”

Asked to rate Sen. Dirk Kempthorne’s job performance, 54 percent of voters polled statewide gave the first-term Republican a rating of “excellent” or “good.” That’s down somewhat from Kempthorne’s 60 percent in May, but up from 42 percent in February 1994.

The margin of error in the statewide poll was plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Kempthorne falls short of Sen. Larry Craig’s 64 percent “excellent” or “good,” but Kempthorne also hasn’t been campaigning because his term runs until 1998.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Chenoweth faces a strong challenge

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