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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


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  2. Anderson says:

    I dunno. If Iraq were going swimmingly, I doubt that the scandals would have a significant impact. As it is, they’re just icing on the cake.

  3. Anderson says:

    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.

    Oh, & sorry to double up, but to put the Harman investigation into the “corrupt” category is not right, if you mean the NIE leaking nonsense.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: I agree Iraq is #1. Still, the scandals are demoralizing the base. It’s bad enough that the Democrats have to vote AGAINST Bush rather than FOR their own candidates in most cases. Republicans are essentially in the same position, now, voting AGAINST Pelosi and Frank and Hastings rather than FOR their guys. It’s pretty damned depressing, really.

  5. Bandit says:

    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.

    What in God’s name would lead you to believe they’re holding their noses when they vote for their representative criminal/lunatic/traitor?

  6. Cernig says:


    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.

    I don’t know if the misdirection was deliberate, in which you split voters into one camp or the other.

    A more factually correct sentence, given that the base alone never can decide an election, would be:

    Voters in general seem more willing to hold their noses and vote for corrupt Democrats than to hold their noses and vote for corrupt Republicans

    This may be because, with the Democrats, it isn’t seen as ingrained and cultural corruption.

    (Note: I’m not saying that the Dems don’t have the same ingrained culture, just that it isn’t seen that way by the general public.)

    Regards, Cernig

  7. Tano says:

    Or perhaps it is just given that a certain level of corruption is accepted as endemic in our political system. When one party holds power for an extended period, the corruption is more lucrative, and spreads to infect and drown out any policy proposals. So, ruling party corruption is objectivly a bigger thing than minority party corruption, and becomes a bigger motivator for negative voting.

    Plus when the ruling party adds endemic incompetence into the mix, as well as an ideology that panders to the extremes, you have a classic moment of bum-out-throwing.

  8. Or its that the liberal old media plays up the GOP scandals and down plays the democrat scandals. See Senator Reid.

    A democrat who has gay sex with a page is re-elected. A republican who sends inappropriate text messages to a former page resigns.

    A democrat who crashes into a police car while intoxicated is driven home and in no danger of losing his seat. A democrat who leaves a women to drown when he drives drunk off a bridge is repeatedly re-elected. A republican who calls someone ‘Macaca’ is hounded by front page articles questioning if he is a racist.

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  10. madmatt says:

    hey yeta…how about a vice president who SHOOTS SOMEBODY IN THE FACE and doesn’t have to be bothered until the next day about his actions.

    how about a senator pleading guilty to corruption and staying in his seat ala NEY.

    how about a president who never ran a successful business running as a “businessman” and his shady past never being properly scrutinized.

    car accidents and gay behavior from an admitted gay don’t really qualify.

  11. Tano says:

    yes yetanotherjohn,

    You are a victim.
    There is a vast conspiracy working to undermine you and all you hold dear.
    It is just so unfair.

  12. legion says:

    A lot of the things you mention are voter-driven. If voters re-elct people like Kennedy, or Allen, or whats-his-face in Louisiana, they get what they deserve.

    But that doesn’t mean people are being unfairly targeted when republicans are arrested, indicted, and put in jail for breaking the law.

  13. canary says:

    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.

    I think that's incorrect. Due to gerrymandering (both Voting Rights Act and Republican-caused), Democratic seats are in general much safer than Republican seats. Republican gerrymandering relies on a lot of 85% Dem-districts and a lot of 60% Republican districts, so as a percent of total voters, there's no proof that Republicans value ethics any more.

    Also, there's no Republican running against William Jefferson in LA, and I don't think Harman's "scandal" really matters in the eyes of her district.

  14. Bandit says:

    This may be because, with the Democrats, it isn’t seen as ingrained and cultural corruption.

    You would have to be completely ignorant of American politics to make this statement. Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, NYC and Phil Dem machines basically operate as organized crime.

  15. legion says:

    Just as in economics, having a monopoly allows you to do pretty much anything to the market you want. In places like Chicago, Dems have a political monopoly. The GOP has a monopoly on the fed gov’t. Unfortunately, the only short-term answer our system allows is ‘throwthebumsout’.

  16. floyd says:

    “Comments: Scandals Alone Could Cost Republicans the House.” meanwhile… back at the home front….Comments: “TAXES Alone Could Cost citizens their Houses.”…. When will we discuss responsible government?

  17. When Senator Kennedy knocked out his pregnant Mistress , drove the car into the canal then swam to the bank of the canal and drank half a bottle of whiskey to show that he was drunk , well that was a mistake . He waited an hour to make sure she was good and DEAD before he called the Police. That was O.K. because in Massachusetts killing your Mistress is allright , but not your wife. Also he has a D after his name and he is not Hispanic , Black or Jewish , which is a big no-no with Massachusetts