Scandals Alone Could Cost Republicans the House
WaPo fronts a long story by Jonathan Weisman and Jeff Birnbaum entitled, “Scandals Alone Could Cost Republicans Their House Majority.” While one could certainly question the placement of a story that contains no actual news (in the sense of being new) on the front page less than a week before the election, it’s difficult to dismiss the premise of the piece:
Not since the House bank check-kiting scandal of the early 1990s have so many seats been affected by scandals, and not since the Abscam bribery cases of the 1970s have the charges been so serious. But this year’s combination of breadth and severity may be unprecedented, suggested Julian E. Zelizer, a congressional historian at Boston University.
The enumeration of said scandals while, again, not new is nonetheless quite powerful:
At least nine GOP seats have been affected by scandals and are highly vulnerable to Democratic takeover next week. [Mark] Foley‘s abrupt resignation has jeopardized a Florida House district that had been on no one’s radar screen. Under indictment and amid a swirl of ethics investigations, former House majority leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) resigned from Congress earlier this year, forcing Republicans to mount a long-shot write-in campaign for their chosen candidate. Rep. Robert W. Ney’s guilty plea last month on corruption charges still hangs over the Ohio campaign of his would-be Republican successor, Joy Padgett, especially because Ney still has not resigned from Congress.
The GOP has all but abandoned longtime Rep. Curt Weldon (Pa.), as federal investigators examine charges that he steered lobbying contracts to his daughter. Weldon went on television yesterday with an ad featuring actors pleading, “Would you give a friend the benefit of the doubt? . . . Today, Curt Weldon needs our support.”
Republican campaign strategists fear they have also lost the seat of Rep. Don Sherwood (Pa.), who has been dogged by the settlement of a lawsuit filed by a mistress who charged that Sherwood had throttled her.
Congress watchers once saw the swing seat of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) as a missed opportunity for Democrats. But now, as the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix examines his role in a land deal for a business partner and political benefactor, Renzi’s race with political neophyte Ellen Simon (D) has tightened.
Farther west, Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) has had to contend with charges lodged last month by a longtime former aide, Jim Shepard, that the lawmaker made dozens of illegal fundraising calls from his congressional offices. And two reliably Republican districts in California are under assault by Democrats because Reps. Richard W. Pombo and John T. Doolittle have been linked to Abramoff, the lobbyist who pleaded guilty in January to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
Beyond those nine jeopardized GOP seats, four other Republicans have been tainted by the Foley page scandal. Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.) chose to issue a public apology after he admitted that he had known about inappropriate contact between Foley and a former page this spring. Democrats have repeatedly hit Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio), the House Republican Conference chairman, for inaction on the Foley matter. And Democrats have tried to hold two former members of the Page Board, Reps. Sue W. Kelly (N.Y.) and Heather A. Wilson (N.M.), accountable for Foley’s actions.
Meanwhile, new allegations continue to spring up. Vern Buchanan, a Republican running for the Florida seat vacated by Rep. Katherine Harris (R), was the target of local media reports this week detailing his use of business entities in Caribbean tax havens to reduce levies on his auto dealerships. The Albany Times Union published an article yesterday charging that the wife of Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) called police late last year to report that her husband was “knocking her around” during a late-night argument.
And Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who made his name pushing campaign finance changes and governance reforms, was confronted with media reports alleging that a 2003 trip to Qatar — partly funded by a group loosely tied to Abramoff — had not been properly disclosed.
All emphases, obviously, mine. That’s a staggering list. With perhaps a couple of exceptions for those stuck in the guilt-by-association trap, most of these people legitimately deserve to lose. Considering that the Republicans first won the House in 1994 on a pledge to clean up Washington, it would be a fitting end to the majority.
Interestingly, an aside deep into the story points to something else:
House Democrats have had to deal with investigations of their own, involving Reps. William J. Jefferson (La.), Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.) and Jane Harman (Calif.), but none of those cases have put Democratic seats in jeopardy.
For whatever reason, Democratic voters seem more willing than their Republican counterparts to hold their noses and vote for corrupt politicians with the correct party affiliation.