- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s Democratic rival to represent the 14th District of Illinois says he got into the lopsided race because he opposes the war in Iraq, but now sees people supporting his candidacy because of what they see as Mr. Hastert’s slow response to the “Foleygate” scandal.

“I hope people elect me for the qualifications I have for [charting] a new direction in Iraq, not because the speaker covered up for a dirty old man in Congress,” John Laesch, 32, said yesterday, referring to accusations that former Florida Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, sent sexual computer messages to teenage boys serving as congressional pages.

No one is predicting Mr. Laesch, a political newcomer, will defeat Mr. Hastert in the overwhelmingly Republican district west of Chicago, where the top House Republican got 69 percent of the vote in 2004.

Ed Patru, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee laughed yesterday when asked if the Foley scandal might adversely affect Mr. Hastert in the Nov. 7 election.

“This is a two-day story,” Mr. Patru said. “It will have no effect at all.”

Illinois Republican leader Dennis Wiggins agreed.

“The speaker is very well-respected in this district, and he is trusted, as he is in Congress,” said Mr. Wiggins, chairman of both the Kane County Republican Central Committee and the 14th District Republican Central Committee. “The calls I’m getting say he should hang in there and stay steadfast. There are two investigations going on [in the Foley scandal], and it behooves everyone to sit back and wait for the results.”

Mr. Laesch describes Mr. Hastert as “the most powerful guy up for re-election in 2006.” But the Democratic challenger says his campaign has been “energized” by inconsistences between what Mr. Hastert and others have said about when he first learned of inappropriate e-mail messages Mr. Foley sent to male pages.

Fallout from the Foley scandal “has had a huge impact on my campaign,” Mr. Laesch said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Since Friday, we’ve raised $25,000 without lifting a finger.” That’s on top of $100,000 he had already raised.

“I realize Dennis Hastert can raise millions of dollars at the drop of a hat,” Mr. Laesch said.

In addition, he said, between 30 and 40 people showed up at his campaign office Monday afternoon, asking for yard signs or to volunteer their help. “These people came to express their concern about having a silent speaker, who did absolutely nothing” to protect teenage males from a sexual predator, said Mr. Laesch.

“Even though I am a 32-year-old underdog, I have put a dent in” Mr. Hastert’s campaign, the challenger said. He said his assets “include strong organizational skills” and he predicted conservatives will like the fact that his parents were missionaries in West Africa.

A Hastert spokesman said Mr. Laesch is “making reckless accusations” against the 10-term incumbent.

Mr. Hastert “was born and raised here, raised a family here, taught high school here and coached teams here,” said Brad Hahn, a spokesman in Mr. Hastert’s district office in Batavia, Ill.

“Denny Hastert is a lifetime part of this community, and he represents the values of this district,” said Mr. Hahn.

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