BOISE -- Idaho Family Forum founder Dennis Mansfield, who engineered the two most recent abortion debates that severely divided the Republican Party, formally entered the First District GOP Congressional primary race on Sunday to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth.

"Idaho has benefited from the leadership of Helen Chenoweth. Helen has been a brave fighter for Idaho in the U.S. Congress," Mansfield said, wrapping himself in the conservatism that has marked Chenoweth's five years in Congress.

"Idaho wants a Helen Chenoweth-Hage conservative. Ladies and gentlemen, I am that candidate," he told supporters from the Statehouse steps.

Mansfield, 43, faces an uphill battle against millionaire businessman and fourth term Lt. Gov. Butch Otter, a Libertarian who holds many of the same political views as Chenoweth, but expressed without the same strident rhetoric.

Former state Republican Chairman Ron McMurray, who ran third in the 1994 Republican Congressional primary, is also vying to succeed Chenoweth. Chenoweth is fulfilling her personally-imposed three-term limit in office.

Mansfield also committed to serving only three terms. He promised to "develop a 'farm team' of citizen legislators, not career politicians ... into whose hands I will pass this baton."

Mansfield, who attended West Point but graduated from California Polytechnic University, resigned as executive director of the Family Forum in September, turning the organization over to Minnesota attorney John Elliott. Mansfield made an unsuccessful bid for Congress from California in the 1970s.

Sounding the themes of the conservative Republican Congressional leadership, Mansfield made no apologies for thrusting the Idaho Republican party into divisive abortion debate in both 1998 and 1999.

"I will fight for you to protect all life -- including the unborn as I did in the state Legislature," Mansfield said. "I will lead on the issue of passing a partial birth abortion ban in the U.S. House of Representatives. I will also fight in Idaho for parental consent."

Chenoweth's attempt to insert herself in the most recent abortion debate prompted Republican legislative leaders to suggest that if she was concerned about that issue at the state level, she should have run for the state Legislature.

Like the woman he hopes to succeed, Mansfield has not minced words about the abortion matter. He, at one point in 1998, said publicly that blood was dripping from the elbow of former Gov. Phil Batt when Batt vetoed a parental consent bill he believed would actually harm young women more than help them.

Last week U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill voided Idaho's ban on controversial late-term abortions, described by anti-abortion activists as partial-birth abortions, on grounds that the law was so vague it would have banned all abortions after the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.

The state attorney general, who was charged with defending the law, has said he does not plan to appeal the prohibition that was patterned after one that has passed Congress and been vetoed by President Clinton on the same grounds Winmill cited.

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