- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

The Democratic Party is using the unfolding scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley to bash Republican candidates and raise support for their party, arguing that Republicans have too much power and mishandled the situation.

From Virginia to New Mexico, Democrats have demanded the resignation of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and challenged Republicans to return money donated by Mr. Foley, who resigned last week after it was reported that he had sent sexually explicit electronic messages to teenage boys in the congressional page program. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee cited the scandal in two e-mails to supporters this week — one asking for volunteers, the other asking for money.

In yesterday’s fund-raising e-mail, DNC Chairman Howard Dean said Democratic operatives were ready to defeat Florida’s Mr. Foley and Republicans long before the scandal, but stressed that “Democrats are fighting in important races up and down the ballot on the idea that the culture of corruption and cover-up just won’t stand up against a message of real change.”

The seemingly boldest attack on Republicans so far has come from House Democratic candidate Patty Wetterling in Minnesota, who began airing television ads contending Republican leaders “admitted covering up the predatory behavior of a congressman,” and “knowingly ignored the welfare of children to protect their own power.” Mrs. Wetterling, a child safety advocate, was chosen by Democrats to deliver their weekly radio address tomorrow.

House Republican leaders have denied covering up the scandal. After resigning, Mr. Foley checked into a rehabilitation program for alcohol abuse, leaving Republican leaders scrambling to fend off critics who accuse them of covering up his behavior.

Mr. Hastert said yesterday he was “deeply sorry” the situation occurred, called for several investigations and a review of the page program, but denied any wrongdoing.

Democratic leaders quickly slammed him.

“The problem today isn’t the page program,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “The problem today is that House Republican leaders had evidence of a sexual predator in their ranks and chose to cover it up instead of choosing to protect these children.”

Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, counted 33 House campaigns so far in which the Democratic candidate has either called for Mr. Hastert to resign, urged the Republican candidate to return Mr. Foley’s donations or made politically charged statements about the scandal.

He called such efforts “the type of election year antics that voters can see right through,” and will reject.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this week blasted key Republican senators for refusing to acknowledge a Republican cover-up and lashed out at others, such as Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, for campaign contributions made by Mr. Foley.

Mr. Allen’s office donated the amount Mr. Foley had given them to a Virginia nonprofit group that protects children.

New Mexico’s Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a House Democratic candidate, called for Mr. Hastert to resign, then demanded her Republican opponent, Rep. Heather A. Wilson, join her — a tactic used by other Democrats.

“They’re using it to their benefit,” said Jennifer Duffy, political analyst for the Cook Political Report. “Republicans would, too.”

She warned it’s premature to say the scandal will put Democrats over the top in the midterm elections because “voters have a fairly short attention span.”

Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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