Foley Scandal Changes Game of Washington Politics

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NPR's senior analyst, Daniel Schorr reflects on the effect the latest Washington scandal has had on politicians and voters.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

As scandal spreads through the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr, has been watching its effect on politicians and on voters.

DANIEL SCHORR: Take, for example, Eleanor Klepser(ph), 60 year old, resident of a Buffalo, New York suburb, and a loyal Republican. She has supported Congressman Thomas Reynolds for as long as she can remember. But now, she tells the Washington Post, she wonders if Reynolds, who is chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, has been part of a cover-up in the congressional page scandal.

Or take Patty Wetterling, a Democrat, child safety advocate in Minnesota. She was far behind in her first-ever race for a vacant House seat until the scandal broke. Now, campaigning on a demand for expulsion of members involved in an apparent cover-up, she was found in a Reuters survey to be running neck and neck with her Republican opponent in what had been considered a Republican stronghold. The scandal is not the only factor, but a month before the election, Reuters finds Democrats now leading in 11 of 15 crucial seats currently held by Republicans, putting control of the House within reach of the Democrats.

But a month is a long time in an unusually volatile election season. One would expect that the voting pattern could be influenced by large factors: the Iraq War, the state the economy, the price of gasoline. What strikes me is the way that personal issues can now bubble up to the surface, be spread swiftly by the media, and send candidates running for cover.

Senator George Allen found himself in serious trouble because of matters like his use of the word macaca and his inept handling of the revelation of his Jewish ancestry.

As of now - and every assessment of the election must be prefaced with as of now - Allen is still marginally ahead of his Democratic opponent, James Webb, 48 to 45 percent. But this is no longer the romp that was supposed to cascade Allen back into office with dreams of a presidential candidacy beyond that. When one word, macaca, can become an issue, when one personal scandal can plunge the House into turmoil, it isn't safe to make predictions anymore.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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