- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

Republican lawmakers inside the Beltway are using a multipronged strategy to limit fallout from the Foley scandal: Focus on national security, keep congressional races on local issues and blame Democrats — even operatives of former President Bill Clinton.

“We will do the same thing we have been doing — spending tens of millions of dollars reminding voters this election is about local issues and local personalities and not a national referendum,” said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Mr. Forti said average voters want to know where candidates stand on immigration and taxes, and they aren’t daily bombarded in their local newspapers with dire predictions for Republicans’ chances of keeping control of Congress in November.

“We built these House races in 2002 and 2004 on these issues because we knew President Bush wasn’t going to have coattails,” Mr. Forti said.

New polls, taken after Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned last week amid charges he sent sexually explicit e-mails to an underage male congressional page, show about half of likely voters said that recent disclosures will be very or extremely important in their vote next month.

One former senior administration official who remains close with top Bush advisers said the White House strategy is clear:

“We’ve got to start going back on the offense, doing what the president did in September, when he began to deliver a series of speeches on national security and the war on terror.”

Republicans, the official said, will continue to address the scandal by saying “this is not endemic to the Republican Party, this is one bad guy … and he’s gone. Then, we pivot, say enough’s enough, it’s under investigation, we’re not saying any more about it. … If Democrats try to localize what is a national story, they do it at their peril.”

At the White House, the strategy is simply to not talk about it, with press secretary Tony Snow telling reporters yesterday, “I will be maddeningly but consistently nonresponsive beyond what you are about to hear.”

But outside the Beltway, some state Republican leaders say the party remains in disarray, with no cohesive message on how to deal with the daily sordid developments and keep the races from becoming a national indictment on the party.

“We haven’t really seen much of a plan” for how to deal with the scandal, said Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

The state leader said there was an early talking-points e-mail to state leaders from the House Republican Conference, but that simply pointed out that the Democrat-controlled House in 1983 “was embroiled in scandal after two Members of Congress were found to have engaged in inappropriate sexual relations with teenage congressional pages.”

Celinda Lake, a top Democratic pollster, said if Mr. Bush’s job-approval rating remains in the 30s, then Republicans have a near-zero chance of holding the House and will probably lose the Senate as well.

But, said Miss Lake, an approval rating up around 44 percent will make it more difficult for Democrats to make the net gain of 15 seats to take control of the House and six seats to take over the Senate.

Republican analysts say the national party has been slow off the mark to deal with the developing Foley story.

Asked whether there was a plan to communicate with the nation outside the Beltway, Republican pollster Frank Luntz said, “No, and that’s the problem.”

“Back in the days of [former House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay, there would have been an immediate conference call, not to defend the position of the leadership, but to articulate what needs to be said from this point forward. There would have been sample releases, there would have been sample talking points, there would have been an op-ed produced — none of that’s happening,” Mr. Luntz said.

The silence from Republican Party leaders has given Democrats locked in tight races across the country an edge. For instance, in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District race, Democrat Patty Wetterling, a children’s-safety advocate, rushed a TV ad onto the air on Tuesday calling for a criminal investigation of Mr. Foley.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Wetterling, who says in the ad that the Republican Party “knowingly ignored the welfare of children to protect their power,” was chosen to the give the national Democratic response to tomorrow’s weekly radio address by Mr. Bush.

Democrats, who for a year floundered to find a message to run on this year, say the Foley scandal illustrates that the Republicans are preoccupied with protecting their congressional majority at the expense of public interest, even the safety of young pages.

John Zogby, a Democratic pollster, said this scandal has legs because it is far more understandable than normal Washington scandals over policy or White House access.

“The bottom line is that married voters, parents and grandparents, are the ones who vote for Republicans, and there’s damage out there, real damage.”

He said that his recent polling shows a high number of evangelicals undecided, “and frankly, if they’re undecided, they may not vote. … Voters not showing up could be devastating.”

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who some conservatives have said should resign over his handling of the scandal, on Wednesday suggested that operatives aligned with Mr. Clinton knew about the Foley accusations and might have been behind the disclosures in the closing weeks before the Nov. 7 elections.

The Illinois Republican offered no proof, and yesterday said he was merely citing press reports.

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