- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2006

Republican House candidates still feel some heat from the revelation that Rep. Mark Foley sent inappropriate and sometimes lurid Internet messages to teenage boys, but party leaders insist they are starting to get their message out again to voters.

“The Foley matter has become absolutely quiet in the vast majority of House races, as voters have been able to separate the actions of one member from his party,” said Jonathan Collegio of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). “In most races, voters say it will have no impact on their decision.”

The Foley scandal and the ensuing criticism of how Republicans responded or failed to prevent it dominated campaign coverage. The unfolding story buried the party’s message and damaged some incumbents’ re-election chances Nov. 7, when Democrats seek to eke out control of the House or Senate.

“This is just one more in a chain of scandals that are convincing people that the Republicans’ power should not be continued,” Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said.

“The impact that this had sort of sucked the oxygen out of our ability to talk about the message. That’s not where you want to be a month to three weeks out,” one Republican operative said, referring to the press blitz after the story broke Sept. 28.

Mr. Foley, Florida Republican, resigned from Congress the following day, after sexually explicit computer messages he sent to current and former congressional pages, all teenage males, became public.

The Republican operative, who asked not to be identified, said the negative fallout faded in recent days. Last week, even as the House ethics panel continued investigating the matter, Republican leaders touted tax, energy and anti-terrorism policies.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in an Oct. 16 memo that the party is “back on offense” after it was sidetracked addressing Mr. Foley’s “despicable conduct.”

However, the damage may have been done.

House Republicans already were in a tough battle to retain their majority, with voters expressing frustration over the Iraq war, the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and other party members who left Congress this year under ethical clouds.

“What the Foley scandal did, wrapped up all in one, was it took the Republicans off message, hurt the leadership, dominated the news and certainly tipped the balance in favor of Democrats,” independent pollster John Zogby said.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last week found that 75 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the job Congress is doing, a 10 percent increase from mid-September. It also found that 47 percent are less favorable of Republican control after the events of recent weeks.

The scandal had a real effect in some races, including those of Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, who is chairman of the NRCC, and Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio.

Mr. Reynolds faced sagging polls and ran an ad apologizing for the scandal. He said he first learned of complaints about Mr. Foley last year from Rep. Rodney Alexander, Louisiana Republican and the sponsor of a page who received e-mails from Mr. Foley.

But Mr. Reynolds has been criticized for not doing more than telling House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, about the complaints.

Survey USA showed Mr. Reynolds trailing by five points in the days after the scandal broke, but showed him up by three points in a poll taken Oct. 16-18.

Mrs. Pryce, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and a friend of Mr. Foley’s, lagged well behind her Democratic opponent in a poll taken Oct. 8-10. However, Pryce campaign spokesman George Rasley said it was “a temporary blip in the polls” and “we’re back to where we were before,” with a neck-and-neck race.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Stacey Paxton said the fact that a leader such as Mr. Reynolds is “fighting for his political life” proves that the Foley scandal is having an affect nationwide. Republican pollster Jon McHenry, though, said Democrats failed to nationalize the Foley issue by explaining how they would provide better leadership.

“Once again, Democrats seem to have not taken advantage of some clear momentum,” Mr. McHenry said.

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