Foley Scandal Could Help Democrats in Election

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Both Republicans and Democrats have taken up battle stations after allegations that former Florida Rep. Mark Foley had taken part in sexually explicit electronic communication with teenage boys. Also, Bob Woodward's latest book about the Bush administration is sending ripples around Washington.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's get some analysis, as we do every Monday morning, from NPR's Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you think that Republicans will be able to contain the damage here?

ROBERTS: Well, they're trying to draw the distinction between two sets of emails; the ones that they say they saw, which were "overly-friendly," and a second set which is being posted on the ABC Web site and you can read, and they are really quite sexually explicit and awful. I think that that's not going to fly. I think, first of all, it's splitting hairs.

Secondly, it's not exhibiting the sense of outrage that most parents would feel about the idea that you send off your children to Washington to be pages or interns, or some young position in the care of members of Congress and members of an administration; and those are the people who are supposed to care of these kids, not supposed to be harassing them, exploiting them.

And as one Republican said to me over the weekend, I can't imagine that the House leaders didn't understand that the political consequences of this, of not acting on this, would be great even if they didn't understand the moral consequences.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about those political consequences. As Luke Burbank pointed out, this happens just as everybody was going home to campaign. Is there any danger for Democrats in going after the Republicans on this?

ROBERTS: Only if one of their own ends up being tainted with the same problems, and that did happen to Republicans when they went with a vengeance after the House bank scandal in 1992. It turned out a lot of Republicans had bounced checks as well, including Republicans who, at that point, had left the House and gone into the George H. W. Bush administration. But even if a Democrat does turn up having harassed pages, that Democrat won't be head of a child protection caucus and won't have leadership issues, which the Democrats are now calling a cover-up by the Republican leadership.

So I think that they're pretty safe in going after this. It's also very good for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who's been demonized by the Republicans. You know, Steve, more Republicans recognize her name than Democrats do because the Republicans have used her in their fundraising efforts as a San Francisco liberal. This has given her an opportunity to point out that she is the mother of five, the grandmother of many and that she can pin a softer image of herself.

INSKEEP: Could this scandal actually determine who wins control of the House?

ROBERTS: You know, it actually could. It is tight anyway. The Democratic momentum had been stalled. The president had succeeded in turning the conversation to one about terrorism. This could start things moving again in the Democrats' direction.

First of all, Foley's seat itself is likely to go Democratic at this point, which nobody had counted on. Then you have Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the Republican Campaign Committee, who's in a tight race himself and questions about what he knew when and what he did with it.

Then you have Heather Wilson in New Mexico in a very close contest - one of the closest in the country - being attacked immediately for taking money from Mark Foley. She now says she'll give that money to charity. Deborah Pryce in Ohio also in a tough race, also being attacked for taking campaign money from Mark Foley.

So you can see it showing up in race after race. But I think the bigger problem is the climate, Steve, and it's starts to feel like what happened to the Democrats in 1994, particularly when you add the Abramoff scandal and new reports about that.

You have George Allen, the Senator from Virginia's problems where he is accused of making a racist remarks. And the Republicans just can't seem to get their heads above water at this point, and that starts to drag everybody down at a time when they need to have a lot of spirit and momentum behind them. So this could be much more important than just one congressman's scandals.

INSKEEP: Okay. Thanks very much. That's NPR news analyst Cookie Roberts.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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