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Week of October 4, 2006

October 4, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 20b

To: Our Readers

  • Foley’s solicitation of male pages revealed, threatens to topple Speaker, GOP control of Congress
  • Hastert insists he will not resign, but his fate remains uncertain as conservatives call for his head
  • The October Surprise could throw even safe Republicans into races they cannot win
  • McClintock running solid in bid for California lieutenant governor

Outlook

  1. The week began with the Dow setting an all-time high, oil and gas prices sinking like a stone, and promising economic indicators leading into the fourth quarter of 2006. Sounds like a recipe for Republican victory — except that the floor had just been pulled out from under the GOP in a devastating scandal that could cost them control of Congress.

  2. The virtually sure loss of one Florida seat following the scandal surrounding Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and the possibility of a devastating ripple effect pointed to dysfunctional House leadership where the principals do not effectively communicate with each other. The anger by rank-and-file Republican House members over the incompetence of their leaders is palpable.

  3. The Foley scandal followed a short-term satisfaction in the House last week prior to the pre-election adjournment. The passage of the border-protection bill was considered a plus politically, though the long-term need for a guest-worker program was forgotten.

  4. The precipitous drop in oil — and gasoline — prices is a major economic plus. It boosts consumption and strengthens stock market prices. In the absence of the Foley scandal, it would be a major factor indicating a Republican comeback.

  5. The prospect cheering Democrats and terrifying Republicans is a massive change in the climate that will lead to a landslide. In the era of gerrymandered districts, that is unlikely but still possible.

House 2006

The Foley Factor: Revelations about Rep. Foley’s "over-friendly" e-mails to a 16-year-old male page in 2005 gave way on Friday to disgusting and sexually explicit instant messages he earlier had sent to another boy in 2003. Foley’s immediate resignation was only the beginning of a major Republican mess that could get much worse.

  1. Will the Foley affair affect individual Republican members of Congress and Republican challengers? The immediate answer is that it already has. The President’s aggressive campaign on national security and terrorism was a benefit to Republicans. Its sudden termination because of the Foley affair is a negative. The national conversation has already changed, blunting all the momentum Republicans were supposed to have nationally as Congress adjourned and the October campaign season began. Instead of discussing terrorism, Republican House leaders are defending themselves against charges that they covered up Foley’s activities. The more complicated answer follows further below.
  2. Blunted momentum is only the beginning of the GOP’s problems. As of this writing, there does not appear to be any smoking gun suggesting a cover-up of illegal activity, but things still look bad simply because House Republican leaders did know something, and the public will be unhappy with the fact that they did not cut Foley loose immediately, even though they had no evidence of illegal activity.

    The fact is, Foley was reluctant to run for re-election because of pressure over his homosexuality. He was reportedly considering two private-sector jobs already, after the White House had panned him as a Florida Senate candidate, reasoning that he could not win statewide. But National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) talked a reluctant Foley into staying. Naturally, Reynolds, as the campaign chairman, wants all incumbents to stay in the House and to minimize open seats. Foley filed as a candidate in Florida on May 8 of this year, after Reynolds and other Republican leaders had been made aware of the e-mails by the page’s congressional sponsor, Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), in April. It would have been a good time to ease Foley out, because his district is solidly Republican enough that another candidate could have carried it easily.

  3. Republican leaders’ excuse is that the teenager’s parents did not want to pursue the matter, but this rings hollow now, even if it is a completely legitimate explanation, because it will not satisfy the public. The correct — and politically smart — thing to do was to demand his retirement upon learning of the 2005 e-mail.
  4. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is well on the way to becoming the fall guy in this whole affair. As of Wednesday morning, no massive defection had occurred. But despite his own denials that he will resign, Republican campaigners are saying that his end could come by the end of the week. His fall, or at least an announcement that he will not run again for speaker, may be necessary to stop the bleeding. Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointed the finger in Hastert’s direction in a Tuesday morning radio interview, and Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) called for Hastert’s resignation in a qualified way. The conservative editorial board of the Washington Times called for it without qualification. Hastert’s office had already made things worse over the weekend with long written explanations of what the speaker did or did not know about Foley’s behavior. Foley, as it turns out, had been something of a terror for the young boys in the page program — high school students who study and work delivering messages on Capitol Hill.
  5. Hastert’s message from the early afternoon press conference on Monday was that, although Republican House leaders had seen the "over-friendly" email from 2005, they had not seen the sexually explicit instant messages from 2003 until last Friday. Already, several media outlets have been confusing the e-mails and the instant messages, which creates the impression of a much worse situation than actually exists. Democrats, naturally, are doing their best to contribute to that false impression, as is to be expected. To them, as to most Washington politicians, an electoral victory is more important than telling the truth. For example, one Connecticut candidate issued a press release Tuesday stating that "the leadership of the House of Representatives knew about former Congressman Mark Foley’s sexually explicit e-mails to a teenage page, but did not take adequate action to stop it[.]"
  6. Democrats cannot be blamed too much for this blatant opportunism: The fact is that Republican leaders would look bad no matter what. That the Republican defense hangs on such details is already a very bad sign for them. For years, Foley had been the most openly closeted homosexual Republican in Congress. This fact was never explicitly aired in the mainstream press — although on two occasions, in 2000 and 2004, it was speculated.
  7. The longer answer to the question of how this affects individual House races is not easily given. Assuming that voters sense a cover-up in the House leadership, how will this cost Republicans? Will conservatives in Nebraska or Indiana simply stay home on Election Day because of Mark Foley? Will they blame their own long-serving member of Congress for someone else’s misdeeds? Will they take it out on a new GOP candidate for an open seat who isn’t serving in Washington already? This is all very hard to tell.

    At the very least, there will probably be some suppression of turnout on the right. This is the Democrats’ best game plan at this point. In the time leading up to the Foley scandal, Republicans were beginning to pull some of their most vulnerable seats out of the fire — most notably those of Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).

Outlook: If the political arena had been a sandbox last week with lines drawn, this scandal is like a live grenade thrown into it. The effects are unpredictable and could change the face of the 2006 elections. Although in this week’s edition we are operating under the same assumptions as before, we are well aware that everything could change overnight. None of the Republicans on our chart can be considered safe until a round of further polling gives us some idea of how powerful the Foley factor really is and where it most affects Republican candidates. As we shift races from one column to another, we could be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Republicans -12, Democrats +12.

Republican-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

AZ-1 (Renzi)

CO-4 (Musgrave)

IA-1 (Open [Nussle])

AZ-8 (Open [Kolbe])

AZ-5 (Hayworth)

CT-2 (Simmons)

IN-2 (Chocola)

CO-7 (Open [Beauprez])

CA-11 (Pombo)

CT-4 (Shays)

IN-8 (Hostettler)

FL-16 (Open [Foley])

FL-8 (Keller)

CT-5 (Johnson)

KY-4 (Davis)

IN-9 (Sodrel)

FL-13 (Open [Harris])

FL-22 (Shaw)

NC-11 (Taylor)

TX-22 (Open [DeLay])

KY-3 (Northup)

IL-6 (Open [Hyde])

PA-10 (Sherwood)

NV-2 (Open [Gibbons])

MN-6 (Open [Kennedy])

VA-2 (Drake)

NV-3 (Porter)

NM-1 (Wilson)

WI-8 (Open [Green])

NY-20 (Sweeney)

NY-24 (Open [Boehlert])

OH-2 (Schmidt)

OH-1 (Chabot)

TX-23 (Bonilla)

OH-15 (Pryce)

WY-AL (Cubin)

OH-18 (Open [Ney])

NY-26 (Reynolds)

PA-6 (Gerlach)

PA-7 (Weldon)

PA-8 (Fitzpatrick)

WA-8 (Reichert)

Democrat-Held House Seats In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

IL-17 (Open [Evans])

GA-8 (Marshall)

IL-8 (Bean)

LA-3 (Melancon)

GA-12 (Barrow)

OH-13 (Open [Brown])

IA-3 (Open [Boswell])

PA-12 (Murtha)

OH-6 (Open [Strickland])

SC-5 (Spratt)

TX-17 (Edwards)

VT-AL (Open [Sanders])

WV-1 (Mollohan)

Connecticut-4: Rep. Shays was among the first to throw Hastert under the bus in the wake of the Foley scandal, beating even his Democratic opponent to the punch. After weathering quite a beating on the air (much of it self-inflicted) over the Iraq war and other issues, he has been polling above expectations and has a real, if modest, lead over his challenger, Diane Farrell (D), even in post-Foley polling. For now, we cannot justify keeping this race in the Democratic column, despite her caliber as a candidate and our earlier view of Shays’s weaknesses. Leaning Republican Retention.

Florida-16: Foley’s seat is almost surely lost, despite being a strongly Republican seat. Despite the fact that the state party is able to replace Foley as a candidate, Foley’s name remains on the ballot as spelled out clearly in the state’s election code. This means that in order to vote for the GOP replacement, state Rep. Joe Negron (R), voters must pull the lever for an alleged child-sex predator. That doesn’t sound very promising.

Tim Mahoney (D), once a long-shot candidate, is now for real. Likely Democratic Takeover.

Illinois-6: After a staff change and some time on the air, state Sen. Peter Roskam (R) has put himself a step ahead of rival Tammy Duckworth (D). At this point, her campaign is in a reactionary posture to every message statement. His trend line in the polls has him widening the gap and running ahead by five points. Duckworth’s use of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in mailers is sure to cause the popular senator to take a more active role in this race against her.

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), as he retires, is leaving a robust party infrastructure that Roskam will be able to exploit to great effect.

The trend should come as no surprise in a district that gave President Bush 53 percent, despite his having no campaign here and Alan Keyes‘ being the Republican Senate nominee in 2004. But Democrats are winning something as long as they keep this race on the table and force the use of GOP money. Leaning Republican Retention.

New York-26: This is one race where we will see the direct impact of the Foley factor, even if there is little impact elsewhere. NRCC Chairman Reynolds was the one who encouraged Foley to run for re-election, even though he had had a conversation with Rep. Alexander about Foley’s "over-friendly" e-mail. This could become an issue in the race, which would be a disaster for Republicans. Leaning Republican Retention.

Ohio-1: Although this remains a very close race, our earlier read on the race had been affected by two newspapers’ misreporting the results of a poll. While we wait to see how the Foley affair affects Republicans in Ohio, we are moving the race back to incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot (R). Leaning Republican Retention.

Pennsylvania-6: Provided that the Foley Factor does not undo him, Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) is polling much stronger than we expected. He appears to have a real lead over his opponent, Lois Murphy (D). This comes despite months of uncomplimentary recorded phone messages pummeling his constituents. This is a tough district for any Republican, but it is evenly divided. Leaning Republican Retention.

Pennsylvania-10: The most endangered incumbent in Pennsylvania now seems to be Rep. Don Sherwood (R), who ironically holds a safe Republican seat. Republicans are regretting that they did not cleanse him from the ballot after his alleged mistress-choking incident. His opponent, college professor Chris Carney (D), has strong support from the national Democratic Party and runs seven to nine points ahead. Leaning Democratic Takeover.

Pennsylvania-12: Rep. Murtha is suddenly getting negative coverage for his earmarking activities, and from the release of the entire ABSCAM tape that shows him dealing with an undercover FBI agent who offers him a bribe. Lucky for him, the Foley affair drowns out all of this for now, but the race with Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey (R) could still tighten because of it. Likely Democratic Retention.

Senate 2006

Democrat-Held Senate Seats In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

Nebraska (Nelson)

Maryland (Open [Sarbanes])

New Jersey (Menendez)

Minnesota (Open [Dayton])

Michigan (Stabenow)

West Virginia (Byrd)

Washington (Cantwell)

Vermont (Open [Jeffords])

Republican-Held Senate Seats In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

Arizona (Kyl)

Missouri (Talent)

Montana (Burns)

Tennessee (Open [Frist])

Ohio (DeWine)

Virginia (Allen)

Pennsylvania (Santorum)

Rhode Island (Chafee)

Governor 2006

Although the main focus this year has been on the House and Senate races that will determine control in Washington, several governorships are up for grabs as well. This year’s gubernatorial races are the last ones that will not have consequences for state-by-state redistricting after the 2010 census. Democrats +3, Republicans -3.

Republican-Held Governorships In Play

Likely Republican Retention

Tossup

Likely Democratic Takeover

Leans GOP

Leans Dem

CA (Schwarzenegger)

AK (Open [Murkowski])

AR (Open [Huckabee])

MA (Open [Romney])

CT (Rell)

GA (Perdue)

CO (Open [Owens])

NY (Open [Pataki])

FL (Open [Bush])

MN (Pawlenty)

MD (Ehrlich)

OH (Open [Taft])

SC (Sanford)

NV (Open [Guinn])

HI (Lingle)

RI (Carcieri)

TX (Perry)

Democrat-Held Governorships In Play

Likely Democratic Retention

Tossup

Likely Republican Takeover

Leans Dem

Leans GOP

PA (Rendell)

ME (Baldacci)

IA (Open [Vilsack])

AZ (Napolitano)

OK (Henry)

MI (Granholm)

KS (Sebelius)

OR (Kulongoski)

WI (Doyle)

California: State Treasurer Phil Angelides (D) doesn’t seem to understand that the Iraq war is not an issue the governor of California gets to decide. His attempts to tar Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) with images of President Bush and Iraq gain him nothing. He is tanking in the polls, and probably nothing can save him. Meanwhile, State Sen. Tom McClintock (R) is running a very solid race for lieutenant governor and has closed the gap with his faltering opponent, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi. Likely Republican Retention.

Sincerely,
Robert D. Novak
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Written By

Mr. Novak was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, a political newsletter he founded in 1967 with Rowland Evans. He passed away August 19, 2009. Read tributes to Robert Novak and his legendary work, as well as memories from Novak alumni and the Human Events family.

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