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Analysis: What Did GOP Know About Foley?

"If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership," said Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican in a competitive re-election fight in Connecticut.

Like other Democrats, his opponent Diane Farrell called the scandal indicative of House Republicans run amok, saying: "This leadership, which has been so terribly wrong on so many policies, now seems willing to cover up events to protect its members."

Privately, some Republicans concede that the party now is in even more danger of losing control of the House, and a few fear the scandal could spill over to the Senate as well. Democrats need to gain 15 House seats and six in the Senate for control after a dozen years of Republican rule.

The fear is that voters already angry with Congress and inclined to favor Democrats will view the scandal as an indictment against the GOP in general and buy into the Democratic argument that change is needed.

In light of the scandal, at least one Republican-held House seat considered safe for Republicans now may be in jeopardy _ Foley's seat in Florida. His name must remain on the ballot even though Republicans chose a replacement candidate, state Rep. Joe Negron.

Seeing an opportunity, Democrats rushed to the aid of challenger Tim Mahoney, and the candidate himself wasted no time, launching a fresh round of television ads featuring former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham calling Mahoney someone who "believes in faith, family and personal responsibility."

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the House Republican campaign effort, said that's the only seat that could be affected. "I don't know of any member of Congress who's ever lost because of something a member did or didn't do," he said.

"If Democrats want to play politics with this, they're going to be bitten too," Forti said.

Still, the fallout from the Foley scandal also could complicate Reynolds' re-election bid.

The New York Republican's race against Jack Davis, a millionaire maverick Democrat, has been close for months, and Reynolds' disclosure that he had been told months ago of Foley's e-mails plays into one of Davis' central arguments _ that Reynolds, as a GOP leadership member, cares more about political dealmaking than his district.

In a news conference in Buffalo, N.Y., Reynolds defended himself while surrounded by about 30 children and as many parents. He said he acted properly. "I heard something. I took it to my supervisor," he said, referring to Hastert.

Other Republicans in close re-election fights also are feeling heat.

In Ohio, Rep. Deborah Pryce, a House leadership member, is facing questions about what she knew, and she joined other Republicans _ including Reps. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, Clay Shaw of Florida and Heather Wilson of New Mexico _ in saying they plan to donate to charities or return the contributions they received from Foley. Sen. George Allen of Virginia says he'll do the same.

For Hastert, Boehner and others in leadership but not in close races, the ramifications could spread beyond November and into House leadership elections should Republicans hold the House _ now a big "if," some Republicans say.

Three decades ago, Republican Richard M. Nixon was dogged by the question of what did the president know about the break-in of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate and when did he know it.

In November 1974, Democrats capitalized on the scandal, seizing scores of congressional seats as the Watergate class swept to office.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Liz Sidoti covers politics for The Associated Press.

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© 2006 The Associated Press