Rural Voters Appear Unswayed by Foley Scandal

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The scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley's (R-FL) contact with congressional pages seems to strike at the heart of the Republican campaign on moral values. But the case does not appear to be having an effect on a small group of voters contacted by NPR who consider morality an important political issue.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Deborah Amos, in for Renee Montagne.

Here's another allegation in the scandal over e-mails to underage congressional pages. A one-time aide to ex-Congressman Mark Foley quit his job in Congress. As he did so, the aide said he warned top officials about his boss' conduct more than three years ago.

Speaker Dennis Hastert's office says that warning never happened. The aide's name is Kirk Fordham.

Mr. KIRK FORDHAM (Former Aide to Congressman Mark Foley): The real victims are the families and the - and these young boys. And I think - and that's what's most troublesome to me, is that I worked for someone that victimized these people.

INSKEEP: Now, the latest developments prompted a conference call among high-level Republicans. They are mindful that the election is just weeks away. And we will start our coverage this morning by asking how this scandal affects voters who say moral values are key to their decisions.

Here's NPR's Howard Berkes.

HOWARD BERKES: NPR has a list of likely voters who participated in a recent poll. They all live beyond cities and suburbs in rural areas, a significant part of the Republican base. They're all voting in competitive congressional races, they all supported President Bush two years ago, and they all attend church or list moral values as their top issue, or both. These are voters Republicans need in five weeks to retain control of Congress, and they don't like the Mark Foley scandal.

Jody Forehand(ph) is a 29-year-old stay-at-home mom in Bloomsdale, Missouri.

Ms. JODY FOREHAND (Stay-at-Home Mom, Bloomsdale, Missouri): I think it was highly inappropriate for him to be e-mailing and harassing pages that are put in his charge. They're underage, that means off limits. He should know better. He's a grown man.

BERKES: That assessment is typical of the 14 Republicans and Independents reached yesterday by NPR. Now there's nothing scientific about the responses. Our little survey is nothing more than an anecdotal snapshot of reactions from 14 people in two critical voter groups, but the gist of their responses is consistent with a large and scientific poll set for release today by the Pew Research Center. And the gist of their responses is this: The Foley scandal, so far, has absolutely no impact on their votes in November.

Again, Jody Forehand.

Ms. FOREHAND: I'm hoping that this is only an isolated incident. And so I think the war in Iraq is a bigger issue than this. Taxes are certainly an issue - well, not too much taxes, but how our money is being spent.

BERKES: The Republicans and Independents we contacted don't connect this Washington scandal with the congressional candidates back home. One or two bad eggs, even in the Republican leadership, don't taint the whole party, says bank controller Sherman Crum(ph) of Caldwell, Ohio.

Mr. SHERMAN CRUM (Bank Controller, Caldwell, Ohio): I can't with good conscience go to the polling booth in our congressional district and vote for my representative based on what Foley did. I have to try to put that aside and vote on policy that I think matches up with my beliefs and where I think the country needs to go.

BERKES: These church-going, Republican-leaning, moral values voters aren't swayed by the possibility of a cover-up by Republican Congressional leaders. They draw a fine line between their representatives and those involved in the scandal.

Tom Clark(ph) is a 46-year-old construction manager in Muddy Pond, Tennessee.

Mr. TOM CLARK (Construction Manager, Muddy Pond, Tennessee): Every congressman in this country is crooked, no good, and sucks - except for mine. Mine's a good guy. That's a mentality in this country, and it's always been that way.

BERKES: Clark sees weak individual politicians doing what politicians have done before, including Democrats.

Mr. CLARK: We had the Lewinsky scandal with the president. I mean, you know, you got a page, you've got an intern, I mean, this stuff has gone on in Washington forever. And there's been page scandals before - what, in like '74? - where there were several Democrats involved. This is not something new.

BERKES: Even the potential for hypocrisy isn't sending these voters to Democrats. Heather Browniewell(ph) of Owatonna, Minnesota, puts moral values First, which she considers party and candidate allegiance. But nothing she seen in the Foley scandal yet breaks her strong Republican bond, which she describes this way.

Ms. HEATHER BROWNIEWELL (Resident, Owatonna, Minnesota): Very much pro-life and then very much conservative, and that's two of the main things that the party stands for. And so that's why, even though it's sad that he wrote those e-mails and did something that I consider morally wrong, I'm still a Republican and I would still vote that way.

BERKES: Still, there's potential peril for Republican incumbents, according to this small sample of voters. If the scandal spreads to other Republican leaders or to other members of the House and Senate, the stoic response could soften. If evidence develops of a long and broad cover-up, votes could be affected. But so far, to these key rural voters in key congressional districts, it's having no effect at all.

Howard Berkes, NPR News.

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