Challengers look to Rep. Chenoweth to honor term-limit pledge
Sen. Ashcroft in for a fight
By Stuart Rothenberg
January 26, 1999
Idaho 1 First elected in the 1994 GOP landslide, three-term Republican Rep. Helen Chenoweth finds herself at the end of her self-made rope. That's because Chenoweth has promised to limit herself to just six years in the House of Representatives.
While insiders say that the congresswoman now regrets that promise, potential successors believe that she will respect her pledge and retire at the end of her current term.
At least two well-known Republicans are positioning themselves to run for an open seat, and others are mentioned as well.
GOP state chairman Ron McMurray clearly plans to run. He faced Chenoweth in the 1994 primary, drawing 20 percent of the vote but finishing behind Chenoweth and then-lieutenant governor David Leroy. McMurray, who is the general manager of a multi-modal distribution center, previously served as a commissioner and then manager of the Port of Lewiston.
Also interested is Butch Otter. Otter is the sitting lieutenant governor, and he has been elected to that post four times. Observers agree that Otter has been interested in running for other offices (particularly governor) in the past, but he has not done so. Otter's personal style is more charismatic -- but also more flamboyant -- than McMurray's, which would make him a far more controversial political figure, especially among the socially conservative Mormons who are so important in the 1st C.D. electorate.
County commissioner Ron Rankin and Christian conservative activist Dennis Mansfield are among the others mentioned as possibly interested in the race. Maybe even more important, some observers expect Chenoweth to come under some pressure from her very loyal supporters to seek another term.
Open seats usually generate greater opposition than do incumbents seeking re-election, but that may not be the case in Idaho 1. Chenoweth has been a controversial politician, and some Democrats think that a mainstream GOP nominee without political baggage would be harder to beat.
Moreover, since the Democrats were unable to win either of Idaho's House seats last year -- when they had a repeat challenger to Chenoweth and a former member of Congress running in the other district -- the Democrats may find it difficult to recruit a strong, well-funded challenger in the 1st C.D. We'll just have to wait and see.
Missouri's Ashcroft in for a fight
Missouri Senate While potentially vulnerable Republican senators who are up for re-election next year hold their collective breaths to see if they draw top-tier challengers, one freshman, Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, already knows that he is in for a fight now that Gov. Mel Carnahan (D) has indicated that he will challenge the senator.
Ashcroft has been a statewide official for over 25 years, serving as state auditor, as the state's attorney general and, for eight years, as governor. He was elected to the state's top office in 1984, and was re-elected four years later with over 64 percent.
Two years after leaving the governorship, Ashcroft sought to defend an open GOP Senate seat. His Democratic opponent, Representative Alan Wheat, spent almost as much money as Ashcroft but drew just 36 percent. Wheat's race, liberal record and the strong Republican current running in 1994 probably helped inflate Ashcroft's percentage, but his showing also reflects his appeal and positive reputation in the state.
Carnahan will be completing his second term as governor in 2000, but he has been active in elective politics for more than 35 years. First a municipal judge and then a state legislator, he served as state treasurer and as lieutenant governor. Carnahan also lost a race for his party's nomination for governor (in 1984). He finally won election to that post in 1992 (59-41 percent), and was re-elected easily (57-40 percent) four years later.
Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, Missouri's other senator, spent $4.5 million in 1992 and $6.1 million in his re-election bid last year. Ashcroft spent $4 million in his 1994 race, but will likely have to raise and spend at least what Bond did in his last race.
So far, Ashcroft has made one major decision that affects his re-election bid: he decided to drop a bid for the GOP presidential nomination. While he could have pursued his party's presidential nomination and still have had time to file for re-election, that would have presented huge strategic problems. In dropping his presidential bid, the senator both acknowledged the difficulty of his re-election race and improved his chances of winning a second term.
But one thing hasn't changed: the senator still has a battle on his hands.
Tuesday, January 26, 1999
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