Page 2 of 2   <      

Foley Consuming GOP As Elections Draw Near

Notably, a frustrated GOP strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity essentially agreed, saying his party's mishandling of Foley "speaks to our inability to govern and do the right thing. It says everything about who we are as a party."

In several places across the country, the Foley fire is being aggressively fanned by Democrats. In Indiana's 9th District, former representative Baron Hill (D) is airing an ad attacking Rep. Michael E. Sodrel (R) for accepting campaign cash from Republican leaders who "knew about but did nothing to stop sexual predator Congressman Foley." Minnesota child-safety advocate Patty Wetterling, a House candidate whose son was abducted in the 1980s, delivered Saturday's Democratic radio address, attacking GOP leaders for their "silence" on Foley and urging voters to "restore integrity to Congress." In Ohio, Mary Jo Kilroy (D) is running ads on Christian radio, trying to taint Rep. Deborah Pryce (R) by association: "Deborah Pryce's friend Mark Foley is caught using his position to take advantage of 16-year-old pages."

Even New Jersey GOP Senate candidate Thomas H. Kean Jr. recently urged Hastert to resign, although most Republican candidates simply condemned Foley's behavior and called for a full investigation before trying to pivot back to local issues and national security.

In a sign that he is on the defensive, Reynolds went on the air this weekend with ads in Buffalo and Rochester that amounted to a mea culpa over Foley. "Nobody's angrier and more disappointed that I didn't catch his lies," the New York congressman says. "Looking back, more should have been done, and for that, I am sorry."

Most places, though, accusation, not apology, is the Republican approach. Party operatives are distributing talking points to talk radio and conservative blogs detailing the Democratic ties of groups such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and American Family Voices -- two interest groups working to promote the scandal around the country. Republicans have also been working to remind conservatives of Democratic reaction to past sex scandals including those of President Bill Clinton and then-Rep. Gerry Studds (Mass.), who admitted to sexual contact with a page and went on to serve a decade longer in the House. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who is close to White House adviser Karl Rove, released an open letter drawing a connection between the Studds and Foley cases.

For all its intensity, the calculation in both parties is that the Foley scandal is unlikely to reshape the basic dynamics of the Nov. 7 elections, which still seem to hinge on voter attitudes toward Iraq, the economy and President Bush.

Carl Forti, communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, said he has seen no polling in individual races that suggest Foley is seriously eroding support for GOP candidates. "I think most of our campaigns had gotten back to talking about local issues by Tuesday or Wednesday," he said.

Shaw, the mild-mannered dean of Florida's congressional delegation, was trying to do just that as he campaigned for a 14th term representing the 22nd District, immediately south of Foley's. He showed off some fancy X-ray machines he had secured for Port Everglades, and suggested his seniority on the Ways and Means Committee and his close relationship with House leaders have paid dividends for his constituents. But polls show him in an extremely tight race with his challenger, state Sen. Ron Klein, who thinks the Foley incident illustrates why Shaw's close ties with national Republicans will be a liability.

"People have lost their trust in Washington, and this shows why," Klein said after a campaign event Friday in Delray Beach. "It reinforces the feeling that the people running the show in Congress are more interested in protecting their power than protecting kids." He added, "People have had enough of this go-along, get-along attitude."

Shaw's ability to get along with Hastert has helped him in the past. In 2000, the speaker helped ram an $8 billion Everglades restoration bill through the House a few days before the election. Shaw was then reelected by fewer than 600 votes, and subsequent redistricting gave him more Republican constituents. But although Shaw was comfortably reelected in 2004, his district narrowly supported Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) over Bush. And the redistricting has shifted its geographic center from Shaw's Fort Lauderdale toward Klein's Boca Raton.

Klein is the nation's best-funded Democratic challenger, and he has spent his money on ads linking Shaw to Bush and the GOP Congress. He has criticized Shaw's unstinting support for the Iraq war, and in a district teeming with retirees, he has hammered Shaw for supporting Bush's prescription drug plan, as well as elements of Bush's Social Security plans. Now Klein has called for Hastert and anyone else who knew anything about Foley's electronic activities to resign and is assailing Shaw for his close relationship with the speaker.

Shaw says he is also "very proud" of the record of the Republican Congress, as well as his own record of bringing home the bacon. In an interview, Shaw praised Hastert's response to the allegations and suggested it was "quite a coincidence" that the story broke after it was too late to replace Foley on the ballot, on the day Republicans were passing an immigration bill. He warned that Democrats will pay a price "if they timed this politically."

Even if Foley only costs Republican candidates a percentage point or two, that could make the difference in races as close as Shaw's. "It's the only thing people are talking about -- in the parking lot, on the soccer field, everywhere," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who has been friends with Klein since they served together in the Florida legislature. "It's another congressional scandal, and it's right in our back yard; it can't help but resonate."

<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company