The radio ad by the independent candidate opposing indicted Rep. Raymond F. Lederer (D-Pa.) in next Tuesday's election is anything but subtle. A voice auctioning off a congressional seat says: "Sold for $50,000."
The independent candidate favored to take the seat that had been held by convicted and expelled former representative Michael (Ozzie) Myers -- who is running for relection on the Democratic ticket -- uses code words instead. Tom Foglietta's television ads end with a plea that a vote for him will "give Philadelphia its good name back."
Lederer and Myers are two of the six members of Congress implicated so far in this year's celebrated Abscam case. They are charged with having taken bribes to support bills in Congress. One of the six, Rep. Richard Kelly (R-Fla.), already has been beaten in a primary. For all of the others, Abscam is plainly the dominant issue, though several of them still are favored to win.
Charles Geffen, campaign manager for Myers' Republican opponent, Robert Burke, has given new meaning to the equal time doctrine. He demanded and is getting free television time because two local stations ran specials of the FBI videotape of Myers taking a $50,000 bribe.
"The only thing I'm worried about is that the hostages might be released and we'll be preempted," Geffen said.
In South Carolina, John Napier, the Republican challenging convicted Rep. John Jenrette (D-S.C.), doesn't mention Abscam at all in his advertising. His pollster, Lee Atwater, says that is only because surveys show the voters already are well aware of the incumbent's run-in with undercover FBI agents posing as bribe-offering representatives of an Arab sheik.
Curiously, national and local Republican parties appear to have done little until recently to try to target Democrats endangered through their involvement with Abscam. Only Jenrette, who was in trouble before the case broke in February, has had a well-financed GOP opponent all along.
In Philadelphia, Burke, a little-known lawyer, and William Phillips an undertaker opposing Lederer, have raised less than $20,000 each. Political experts in the city say Republican leader William Meehan likes weak candidates so no one can challenge his authority.
Others have suggested that Meehan has a tacit understanding with local Democratic leaders to put up "sacrifical lambs" in return for a cut of patronage. Meehan, not surprisingly, rejects these notions.
"I don't have people standing in line to run on my ticket," he said. Of the charges of collusion, he says, "All I got from [former Democratic Mayor Frank] Rizzo was pneumonia."
In New Jersey, Chris Smith, the right-to-life Republican candidate who got clobbered by Rep. Frank Thompson Jr. two years ago, was handed the nomination again. In the last month, at least, he's been getting some financial backing from the national party.
Guy Molinari, a state assemblyman, jumped into the race against Rep. John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.) during the summer and recently has recieved $15,000 from national GOP committees.
Both Smith and Molinari seemed determined to take the high road at first, sticking to routine issues. But when the indicted incumbents' joint bribery-conspiracy trial was postponed until after the election, the GOP "took off the gloves" in the words of one campaign manager.
"Frankly, it's all we've got," said Archie Reid, who left his blueberry farm last month to direct the campaign of Thompson opponent Smith. "We're being about as subtle as a Hillerich & Bradsby [baseball bat] upside the head."
One radio ad says, "Wouldn't it be nice to know you could trust your congressman?" Leaflets are headlined, 'You be the judge." After discussing his views on the economy in a Trenton Times interview, candidate Smith asked: "Aren't you going to ask me about Abscam?"
Mike Petrides, campaign manager for Molinari, said he didn't start attacking the incumbent on the criminal charges until Murphy himself began using ads quoting leaked versions of the tapes that put the congressman in a favorable light.
Most recently, the Molinari campaign has been using Murphy's own words against him, Petrides said. Murphy voted against Myers' expulsion and then attacked the conduct of the FBI, rather than his colleague, when the Myers tapes were released publicly.
So the GOP challenger is running Murphy's voice to disseminate this new version of "Murphy's Law": "Even the guilty are innocent enough to be congressmen."
Here's a closer look at the five Abscam races:
Myers -- Bizarre is the only way to describe the scramble for the seat of the 37-year-old longshoreman who played a starring role in the first Abscam trial. Though stripped of his seat in the first expulsion by the House since the Civil War. Myers is still the Democratic nominee.
Late last week, however, he was in Chicago taping a Phil Donahue show that won't be seen in Philadelphia until after the election. How does that help him get reelected? "I'm taking my case to the American people," Myers said.
His opponents are independent Foglietta, who was a lifetime Republican until he switched his registration to Democrat early this month, and Burke, the unknown Republican whose law firm wouldn't even let him campaign full-time until recently, according to Geffen.
The Democratic city committee and Mayor Bill Green now are openly supporting Foglietta over Myers. And late last week, in perhaps the ultimate defection, Joe Vignola, a ward leader who is still on Myers' congressional payroll at $27,300 a year, endorsed Foglietta.
Lederer -- Republican Phillips and independent John Morris (with his "Sold for $50,000" radio ad) have been gnashing their teeth over the voters' seeming lack of interest in the incumbent's Abscam connection. An exasperated Linda Wolfe, Phillips' campaign manager, said one survey found that 76 percent of the sample in Lederer's working class district didn't even know who their congressman is, and 58 percent didn't know Lederer had been indicted in Abscam.
The incumbent has concentrated his campaign on ensuring continued support by Democratic ward leaders, but did make a factory gate appearance last Thursday at the Jack Frost sugar refinery just up the street from his modest row house on Shackamaxon Street in Fishtown. Local union leaders corraled workers for a handshake for television cameras, and many pledged their support.
Phillips is pinning his hopes on 100,000 telegrams to be hand-delivered Sunday that remind voters of Myers' expulsion and add: "Don't let it happen to us." Phillips said his staff asked the national Republican campaign committees for money to mail the messages, but the request was rejected.
Thompson -- Danny Brown, the incumbent's campaign manager, admits this year's race against Smith is the first time in a decade that Thompson has had to campaign hard. Thompson, chairman of the House Administration Committee and a longtime labor champion in Congress, is calling in his IOUs from the labor movement, and its political action committees are coming through. The latest campaign report shows $86,000 of his $95,000 in contributions through Sept. 30 coming from PACs, most of them labor.
Smith has been to Washington in the last month and made a pitch for money before some business PAC managers. While waiting for the checks to roll in, campaign manager Reid says, "We'll just continue to flail away at Abscam."
Without it, disinterested observers said, the race wouldn't even be close.
Murphy -- The incumbent, chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, has been on the offensive, campaigning against Abscam from the start. He sued the Justice Department to try to get the tapes released. He holds press conferences attacking the government at each court appearance. In recent weeks he has sued NBC-TV and The New York Times. a
Eric Vitaliano, Murphy's campaign director, says Molinari's increased use of Abscam as an issue is a sign of desperation. "He can't contest his [Murphy's] record of accomplishment for this district," Vitaliano said.
Petrides predicts that Molinari will do well in Staten Island, the biggest chunk of the district, and that Mary Codd, the Liberal candidate, will take Democratic votes away from Murphy on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Jenrette -- Polls show challenger Napier comfortably ahead of the incumbent. But Jenrette maintains his popularity with poor blacks and rural white farmers, according to his campaign managers. He is running ads noting that he is the only congressman "some" people in the district have ever had, and he has attacked Napier's receipt of special interest funds from oil companies and other out-of-state concerns.
Jenrette aide Warren Clayton said that the congressman was ready to withdraw from the race after his indictment early this month, but 7 of 10 Democatic county chairmen urged him to stay on the ticket.