- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Republican campaign strategists and conservatives fear former Rep. Mark Foley’s sex scandal will depress turnout among the party’s “value voter” base in November, further complicating Republican efforts to keep control of Congress.

“A social conservative may think, ‘Well, Democrats aren’t going to represent the legislation I want to see passed, but the Republicans aren’t representing me,’ ” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council.

“They may just decide to stay home,” according to Mr. McClusky, who said many conservative voters are rightly “disgusted.”

Bob Bennett, the veteran Ohio state Republican chairman, predicted there would be damaging political fallout from the Foley scandal, and several Republican campaign pollsters and strategists say it may give Democrats the final push they need to capture the House.

“If you think Foley doesn’t have an impact on the electorate, someone is kidding themselves,” said Mr. Bennett, whose state was pivotal in the last presidential election and has several hotly contested races, including the re-election bid of Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, which polling shows is statistically tied.

“First, we had Congressman Duke Cunningham convicted, then Rep. Bob Ney … and now Foley. And people get very upset about that. People begin to say, ‘What’s going on down there’ [in Washington].”

Republicans advising some of the top House and Senate campaigns this fall now say privately that their party, barring a political miracle, will suffer a net loss of at least 15 seats — enough to lose majority control — and probably will lose as many as 30 seats. Democrats need six seats to win control of the Senate.

“The GOP has become a walking soap opera,” said Craig Shirley, author and Republican Party consultant. “The only scandal that hasn’t been visited upon the Republicans is Paris Hilton.”

In races across the country, Democrats are working to make their case for change by arguing that the Foley scandal is symbolic of a Republican Party in power too long.

“Whether it’s knowledge of intolerable conduct within the House or warnings about the war in Iraq, this Congress just doesn’t want to face reality, much less hold anyone accountable. They’ll say and do anything to hold onto power,” said Paul Hodes, a Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Charles Bass in New Hampshire.

Several Democratic candidates challenged Republicans to call for the resignation of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert over his handling of Mr. Foley’s explicit messages with underage boys, as influential conservatives and the editorial page of The Washington Times already have done.

“Their willingness to look the other way during such despicable activities speaks to their character,” said Patrick Murphy, the Democratic opponent of Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania Republican.

Mr. Foley resigned from the House on Friday after ABC News reported both over-friendly e-mails and lurid Internet messages he had sent to underage boys who had been congressional pages.

A survey of Republican state chairmen nationwide revealed little discontent about how their party’s House leadership has handled the scandal, calling the affair a case “of one sick individual” who has since resigned from Congress.

“As [former House Speaker] Tip O’Neill said, ‘All politics is local.’ It’s two names on a ballot and that’s the choice voters have at the end of the day,” New Jersey’s Republican Party chairman Tom Wilson said.

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