GOP moves to rein in its rebels

 

Two years ago, Barbara Cubin, a first-time candidate for the House of Representatives, stocked sporting goods stores across Wyoming with pamphlets describing her opposition to the "Clinton-Babbitt War on the West." In Idaho, another first-time candidate, Helen Chenoweth, held a pretend endangered salmon bake to show her scorn for the Endangered Species Act. Now, as they begin their bids for re-election, these feisty first-termers are hearing a new message from their national party: Start looking green.

In mid-May, a memo went to each Republican candidate for the House from Rep. Bill Paxon of New York, coordinator of the GOP's election drive for Congress. It urged the injection of a green vision into their campaigns: "Hold a press conference and issue a press release on the importance of a cleaner, safer, healthier environment for future generations. Ask families and children to appear with you at your press conference. Remember, Republicans are saving the environment for them."

While Paxon's advice may be taken by Republican House candidates elsewhere in the country, neither Cubin nor Chenoweth would comment on whether the directive will re-focus their campaigns. But Met Johnson, founder of the Western States' Coalition, a "wise-use" organization of county, state and federal legislators that supports the two representatives, says the charge to overturn laws controlling public lands has not changed. "I do speak for the rural areas in the West," says Johnson. "And I've heard no one who's changed their mind."

Cubin and Chenoweth's Democratic opponents disagree. Pete Maxfield, one of two candidates vying for the chance to defeat Cubin, says people in Wyoming "didn't expect the extremism on public lands." Ted Sullivan, spokesman for Dan Williams, Chenoweth's challenger, says that although Idaho is a resource-based state, Idahoans are extremely concerned about Chenoweth's attempts to give public lands to the states. As proof of Chenoweth's weakness, he points to the May 28 Republican primary: Chenoweth's rival, William Levinger, got 32 percent of the vote, even though he spent part of his campaign in a mental hospital (HCN, 5/13/96).

But Democrats in both states may not be able to capitalize on the incumbents' possible vulnerabilities. According to Stephanie Kessler of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Pete Maxfield has alienated labor, trial lawyers, environmentalists and "most of the Democratic party constituencies' during his time in the state Senate. His Democratic rival, Casper insurance salesman Worth Christie, has never held an office before, although he has run for state legislator both as a Democrat and a Republican. And in Idaho, Williams has such little name and face recognition he has been called the ghost candidate.

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