Will Mark Foley End the GOP Reign?

Foley for speaker button

Well, not really. But Mark Foley could be responsible for making Nancy Pelosi the next Speaker of the House. hide caption

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Studds

Are voters more tolerant of Democratic lawmakers involved in sex scandals? Or is it because the GOP sees itself as the party of moral values? hide caption

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Michel

Thirteen years ago today, House GOP Leader Bob Michel announces his retirement. Michel's 38 years in the House would be entirely spent as a member of the minority party. hide caption

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Allie Reynolds

1952 was the last time the Yankees were in the post-season in a year that control of Congress switched parties. hide caption

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A genuine good ol' boy feminist.

A genuine good ol' boy feminist hide caption

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There was, of course, the war. And President Bush's polling numbers. Uneasiness about the economy. The response to Katrina. Throw in a little Jack Abramoff.

But if the Republican Party is going to forfeit the control of Congress it has held since 1994, it may be its response to the escapades involving Mark Foley, the Florida House member who resigned his seat in disgrace, that does the trick.

There's still five weeks to go, and the momentum could shift. But the revelations about Foley, his salacious e-mail and instant-message history with underage males who had worked as congressional pages, and questions about who in the Republican leadership knew about these goings on — and whether or not they did anything to stop it, or cover it up — have struck a chord around the country. It's one thing to harp on the scandal involving Abramoff, the convicted lobbyist who distributed favors to his political pals, mostly Republican. For the most part, the reaction around the country to lawmakers on the take was "what else is new?"

But this is different. It resonates because of the concern over protecting young people from sexual predators. It's also about a party that came to power on the strength of family values.

If we were talking about Mark Foley, and Mark Foley alone, that would be one thing. Sex scandals are not new to Washington, but usually the damage is limited to the individual participants. When Reps. Dan Crane (R-IL) and Gerry Studds (D-MA) were revealed in 1983 to have had sexual relationships with teenage congressional pages, they were censured by the full House. But ultimately, it was up to their respective constituents to determine the final punishment.

Crane, a married conservative Republican who was involved with an underage female, tearfully asked for forgiveness but was defeated in 1984 in his conservative district. Studds, a liberal Democrat who was involved with an underage male, was defiant in his actions, refused to apologize, and repeatedly was re-elected in his liberal district until he retired in 1996.

And even when the scandal was not bipartisan, and when it was considerably closer to the election, the fallout was still limited. On Oct. 3, 1980, Rep. Robert Bauman (R-MD), a leading "pro-family" conservative, was charged with committing oral sodomy on a teenage boy in Washington. Married and the father of four, Bauman conceded that he had been an alcoholic but had been seeking treatment. Not the kind of news that the voters of his rural, conservative district were expecting. He was defeated for re-election in November. (For more, check out my Congressional Sex Scandals in History feature that ran on The Washington Post Web site back in 1998.)

Bauman didn't become the national poster boy for congressional misdeeds for a number of reasons. For one thing, we were still living in an era before there was 24/7 cable TV saturation and Internet blogging. For another, the Republicans were still the minority party in Congress, and Bauman's transgressions took everyone by surprise.

The Mark Foley matter was different. Chairman of a caucus that was formed to help exploited children, a man who aggressively took on sexual predators, Foley's sexual orientation was not a secret on Capitol Hill. And his actions — at least the knowledge that he had sent "over friendly" e-mails to a former page — were known to several members of the Republican congressional leadership. What they knew, when they knew it, and whether they were more concerned about saving his seat than protecting the children — a harsh charge, but one that's out there nonetheless — is what this scandal has come to represent. And the fact that Foley was gone in the blink of an eye — no dramatic effort to fight or contest the charges — was stunning by Washington standards.

With Democrats coming oh-so-close to attaining the 15 seats they need to take the House, the last thing the Republicans needed was something to push them over the top. Mark Foley may have given that to them. His seat, Florida's 16th Congressional District, may be gone. Though he resigned from the House, his name will stay on the ballot. Any votes he gets will be transferred to the new Republican nominee, state Rep. Joe Negron. Negron now has the ignominious task of asking Palm Beach-area residents to vote for Foley if they want to keep the seat in the GOP column. The Democratic nominee, and new favorite for the seat, is Tim Mahoney.

And other GOP seats may be at risk, too. Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-NY), the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee who was among those party leaders who knew some details of l'affaire Foley as far back as last November, has an unexpected challenge for his Buffalo-area seat from Jack Davis, a well-financed businessman, who is thought to be within striking distance of victory. Laura Bush campaigned for Reynolds this week.

And the speakership of Dennis Hastert also appears to be at stake. The conservative Washington Times called for him to step down from his leadership post, saying he should have done more to investigate Foley's conduct. He has vowed to fight on. But many social conservatives are livid about what has occurred, stoking recurrent rumors that many could stay home from the polls on Nov. 7. And that would certainly end Hastert's reign as speaker.

On to the questions.

Q: As I listened to your conversation on Morning Edition about potential Democratic Senate gains this year, I did not hear any mention of the tight race for the seat that is being given up by Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN). Does Harold Ford Jr. (D) have a chance at becoming Tennessee's first black senator, or will Republican Bob Corker win the seat? — Wes Phillips, Memphis, Tenn.

A: It was actually in the conversation but cut out for timing. Does Ford have a chance at becoming not only Tennessee's first African-American senator, but the first one from the South since Reconstruction? Absolutely. Should Corker, a moderate Republican in a decidedly Republican state, win? That was my guess coming out the primary, when he beat back two more conservative rivals.

But Ford has been running a stronger campaign than I would have thought, and Corker is still trying to get his bearings. His record as mayor of Chattanooga has been put under the microscope, particularly questions dealing with his stewardship of the city's 911 emergency call system.

In the end, I still think Corker holds on. Ford's Achilles heel may be less the color of his skin than the city he hails from, Memphis, and the family he comes from, the Fords —several of whom have had serious ethical scrapes over the years. But if the election were held today, I couldn't tell you who wins. And with the Democrats needing a net of six seats to take control of the Senate, this is one race the GOP never felt would go down to the wire.

Q: I just heard your coverage on the Senate races on Morning Edition. You might be off the mark on your summary of the Pennsylvania Senate race at this time. Sen. Rick Santorum (R) and Pennsylvania's conservative Democrats have traditionally been under-sampled prior to Election Day in the past. Plus, Democratic candidate Bob Casey Jr. is a pro-life, pro-gun, social conservative and economic liberal. I have my doubts that he will provide a substantial draw for the liberal Democrats that care about abortion and gun control. Turnout will be the key in Pa. this year. The Republicans feel under siege and will be turning out in November. — Keith McMillen, Butler, Pa.

A: I've felt from the beginning that Santorum is a far more effective candidate than Casey, and at some point would begin to make a move in the polls. But with five weeks to go, that move has not occurred, and it may not. Perhaps, in a more neutral playing field, or year, Santorum would survive — as has every Pennsylvania Republican senator since 1956. But this is no ordinary year, and if anything, the voters' mood has soured on the GOP even more in the past week. Democrats may not be ga-ga over Casey, but they do want Santorum out. Casey holds on to win.

Q: Tell me, oh wise junkie, whom do you see as the winner in the Ohio Senate race between Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown? — Vicki May, Steubenville, Ohio

A: The official Rudin line is it's a Tossup. Most polls I've seen give Congressman Brown, the Democratic nominee, a slight edge. DeWine is a good guy and a fairly effective senator who I think would be on his way to a third term had this not been such a decidedly anti-Republican year. And that's especially the case in Ohio, where term-limited Bob Taft may be the most unpopular governor in the country, and where 16 years of GOP rule has led to scandals and voter weariness. My gut tells me that Brown wins. But I have nearly five weeks to change my mind.

Q: I'm not sure I agree with reader Joel Goldstein's thesis [see Sept. 27 column] that Averell Harriman was a viable presidential contender after his 1954 gubernatorial win in New York. I believe it was the closest statewide race in N.Y. history; he won by only a few thousand votes. Usually, when aspiring presidential candidates win by tiny margins, they lose their shine. One recent example is Christie Whitman, who was a "rising star" in the New Jersey Republican Party, but then she only barely won re-election over Jim McGreevey in 1997. (That pretty much ended her higher ambitions.) I think Harriman's White House hopes got ambushed when he won the governorship by such a narrow margin. — David N., New York, N.Y.

A: I'm not sure Harriman's margin in '54 had any bearing on his presidential hopes in '56. He clearly wanted the nomination, though he didn't participate in any of the primaries and didn't officially announce his candidacy until June of that year. (Back then the primaries were not necessarily the road to the nomination as they are today.) He had the solid backing of N.Y. Democratic power broker Carmine DeSapio and, ultimately, the endorsement of former President Harry Truman. But that wasn't enough to stop the easy path to the nomination by Adlai Stevenson, the 1952 nominee who was the Democrats' selection once again in '56. Harriman finished second to Stevenson at the convention.

Q: I was a huge Ann Richards fan. Any thoughts on her legacy? And whatever happened to the guy she beat for governor in 1990, Clayton Williams? — Laura Viau, Orlando, Fla.

A: Ann Richards, who died on Sept. 13, was a good ol' boy feminist, if there is such a thing. She was best known for two things: her witty putdown of Vice President George Bush at the 1988 Democratic national convention, and being the person who lost to Bush's son in the Texas gubernatorial contest six years later. With big hair and a big, infectious grin, Richards was a sassy and charming national celebrity even before she became governor in 1990, the first woman in Texas to accomplish that feat in 50 years.

As state treasurer, she gave a memorable speech at the '88 Democratic convention in Atlanta, where she said of the vice president, "Poor George, he can't help it; he was born with a silver foot in his mouth." (That brought the house down, but my favorite Richards line from the convention was her extolling the importance of women in society: "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards, in high heels.")

Her alcoholism under control and her marriage long over, she won two landslide elections as treasurer. In 1990 she set out to be Texas' first female governor since the legendary Ma Ferguson in 1932. But she was involved in a nasty primary with the state attorney general, Jim Mattox, who suggested Richards had used marijuana and cocaine in the past. Mattox's tactics ultimately backfired and Richards won the runoff.

Still, she went into the general election considered an all-but-certain loser to political neophyte Clayton Williams, the Republican nominee. But Williams had a tendency to say inflammatory things, driving down his support. A key moment came during their debate, when he refused to shake her hand. Richards won a narrow victory.

As governor, she fought for consumers, women, minorities, the environment and tighter ethics laws. But she had a mixed record on education. And just as Claytie Williams hurt his own cause by refusing to shake hands, Richards didn't do herself a favor by underestimating her Republican rival in 1994, George W. Bush, dismissing him as "some jerk." Personally popular, she fell to Bush and the GOP tide that year, 53 to 46 percent.

As for Clayton Williams, he's still around. An oilman from Midland and chief executive of Clayton Williams Energy, he is a strong backer of Gov. Rick Perry, currently favored to win re-election next month.

GILLIGAN'S ISLAND: There was a discussion in last week's column about what had been a nascent campaign for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination by Ohio Gov. John Gilligan, a campaign that never got off the ground because, well, he was defeated for re-election as governor in 1974. I confessed that I had absolutely no memory of Gilligan being listed as a potential candidate for '76.

Bud Plautz of New York, N.Y., agreed with me. "I was active in Ohio politics in the late 1960s and early '70s, and I do not recall any such talk. There were a lot of people excited about Gilligan's future because he was a liberal Catholic from the Midwest, but it wasn't much more than talk among his close supporters who had mentioned him as a potential V.P. in 1972 after the Tom Eagleton disaster. Even that didn't go very far."

Similarly, Danny Davis of Clermont, Fla., says he too has "never heard anyone mention Gilligan as a presidential aspirant." Davis went on to say that in 1972, "as a 15-year-old baseball fan from Kentucky, I attended the World Series in Cincinnati featuring my heroes, the beloved Big Red Machine, vs. the American Leagues white-shoed, mustachioed Oakland As. During the pre-game festivities, the P.A. announcer introduced several dignitaries and honored guests, most notable being the then-Gov. Gilligan. When Gilligan's name was announced, there was a sudden eruption of the most deafening chorus of boos I've ever heard in my life. It was so unexpected to me… I was from Kentucky and had no knowledge of Ohio politics — and it was so loud — seemingly all 52,000 fans were booing in unison. I was totally shocked. Being a rather naive small-town boy, I had never ever heard a political leader be on the receiving end of such obvious public disrespect. I remember asking my uncle, 'What's wrong? Why are they booing the governor?' To which he replied, "He's a Democrat! Cincinnati is Republican territory!' So, when Gilligan went down to defeat two years later, I wasn't surprised."

Ron Grimes of Washington, D.C., has a different memory. Ron says Gilligan wanted John Glenn to run for lieutenant governor with him in '74 "to help his reelection prospects and leave Ohio in reassuring hands when he successfully ran for president in '76." The problem was that Glenn wanted to run for the Senate in '74 — a primary challenge to appointed incumbent Howard Metzenbaum (D), whom Gilligan named to the Senate following the resignation of Republican William Saxbe. Beating Metzenbaum would be sweet revenge for Glenn, who was upset by Metz in the '70 primary. "Gilligan threatened Glenn's political future if he did not comply and run [for LG]. Glenn walked out and faced the news cameras, declaring that he would not be a party to any backroom deal. Richard Celeste subsequently became Gilligan's running mate. Ultimately, Glenn and Celeste survived, while Gilligan was defeated by former Gov. Jim Rhodes."

And count Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News as one who insists the Gilligan for Prez talk was for real: "He was a very attractive, smart, Irish-American from Ohio, the center of it all! If you doubt me, ask his onetime political consultant, Mark Shields. Remember, the 1976 Democratic race was wide open. But Gilligan made some crack at the State Fair about milking the voters, and he went on to lose to Jim Rhodes. But who knows, maybe his daughter — Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas — will run? P.S. This is why they keep some old geezers like me around!"

(It may not have been about "milking the voters." Or maybe this is a different anecdote. David Kuhn of Rockville, Md., remembers Gilligan's visit to the State Fair this way: "He was invited to shear a sheep. He declined, saying, 'I don't shear sheep; I shear taxpayers.'")

MEET THE CHALLENGERS: This week, Jerry McNerney, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA 11), and Selden Spencer, who is taking on Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA 4).

McNerney

It would be fair to say that McNERNEY was not the first choice of the Democratic establishment to take on Pombo, one of the few California Republican House members who have anything resembling a contest this year. Pombo easily beat McNerney by 22 points in 2004, and many Dems in Washington were looking towards a new face this year. They backed Navy veteran Steve Filson, arguing that McNerney was too liberal to win the general election. But McNerney clobbered Filson in the March primary. The 11th Congressional District is generally conservative, and Pombo has regularly won re-election by large margins. But pockets of opposition to the congressman have arisen, mostly over his environmental and land use record, which Dems say is lacking, and money he took from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A new poll taken for the McNerney campaign by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake has McNerney within one point of Pombo. Similarly, a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll conducted for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund had McNerney up by two points.

Spencer button

SPENCER, a neurologist making his first campaign run, is a long shot against six-term Republican incumbent Latham. But Democrats insist that Latham is too conservative for the district, and that President Bush's numbers are dragging down GOP candidates, including Latham. Latham has never shown any signs of vulnerability in the past, but an internal Spencer poll had him trailing by 11 points — with Latham under 50 percent.

 

SEND US YOUR BUTTONS! To get your candidate in the "Meet the Challengers" section, all you need to do is send his or her 2006 campaign buttons to Political Junkie, 635 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20001. If nothing else, it will make Ken Rudin's collection very happy.

SPORTS TALK: Not that I noticed, but Tuesday began the Major League Baseball playoffs. As someone who has a slight rooting interest in a team from the Bronx, I would like to point out that in Game 1, a Mr. Derek Jeter went 5-for-5, including a home run in the eighth inning, in an 8-4 victory over the Tigers. In the always intertwining world of baseball and politics, you should also know that 1952 was the last time the Yankees were in the post-season in a year that control of Congress switched parties. That explains the 1952 Allie Reynolds baseball card that can be found elsewhere in this column.

And as for that "Foley for Speaker" button: It's not what you think. In 1989, when House Speaker Jim Wright (D) was enveloped in a shady book deal that ultimately ended his career, mischievous Republicans put out the button "promoting" Rep. Tom Foley (D-WA), who was then House majority leader.

IF IT'S WEDNESDAY, IT'S "POLITICAL JUNKIE" ON THE AIR: This week, another extended show, this one focused on the Foley scandal and its effect on other campaigns. Tune in to NPR's Talk of the Nation, a call-in program, every Wednesday, for a half-hour on politics. Usually we start blabbering away at 2:30 pm Eastern time, but this week it's been moved up to 2 pm. Next Tuesday, TOTN comes to you from Columbus, Ohio, for a two-hour political show that centers on the state that was chiefly responsible for President Bush's re-election in 2004 — and which could see a major Democratic comeback in 2006.

Also … check out NPR's interactive election map, highlighting every Senate, gubernatorial and key House race in the country, with early projections.

PODCAST UPDATE: What a shame that there's not much going on to talk about in politics this week. Still, I'm sure Ron Elving and I will come up with something in this week's edition of "It's All Politics." New edition of the podcast goes up every Thursday at noon.

Please … If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, don't forget to include your city and state.

This Day in Political History: Rep. Robert Michel, an Illinois Republican who had been the party's leader in the House for 14 years, and who had been in Congress since 1957 — all the time in the minority— announces his retirement. The Republicans will take over the House in the 1994 elections (Oct. 4, 1993).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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