A Florida Congressman's Surprising Scandal

Two weeks ago, Florida Democrat Tim Mahoney appeared to be on an easy path to re-election. But then came revelations that he had an affair with a staffer — then paid her off when she threatened to sue for sexual harassment.

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Two weeks ago, Florida Democrat Tim Mahoney appeared to be on a glide path to re-election, but then came revelations that the freshman congressman had an affair with a staffer and paid her off when she threatened to sue for sexual harassment. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: The irony is lost on few people in Tim Mahoney's congressional district. Two years ago, the political neophyte was given little chance of unseating popular Republican incumbent Mark Foley. But then Foley was forced to drop out of the race after he was found to have sent sexually explicit Internet messages to underage male congressional pages. Flash forward two years, it's another election and another sex scandal.

Representative TIM MAHONEY (Democrat, Florida): I take full responsibility for my actions and the pain that I've caused my wife, Terry, and my daughter, Bailey.

ALLEN: After it was first reported by ABC News, Mahoney was forced to admit he'd had an affair with a campaign volunteer whom he then put on his congressional staff. After the affair broke off, he fired her and then paid her more than $120,000 after she threatened a lawsuit. But that was just the beginning of Mahoney's problems. After another woman surfaced, Mahoney admitted he'd had multiple affairs. The FBI said it was investigating if any laws were broken. His wife filed for divorce. And polls which had shown him leading by 20 points, now showed him trailing his opponent, Republican Tom Rooney. This week Mahoney told the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers he's staying in the race and hopes voters can forgive him.

Representative MAHONEY: I'm not perfect, but I know what the goal should be. And I think that in terms of, you know, trying to keep faith with the people of the district and trying to reform Washington, I think we've done a good job. I think there's more that needs to be done. You're going to have to look me in the eye, and you're going to have to decide whether or not - from talking to me - whether or not I'm sincere.

ALLEN: Yesterday, Mahoney had a chance to make his case in a public setting, but declined. The non-partisan Forum Club of the Palm Beaches had a debate scheduled between Mahoney and Rooney. Mahoney canceled after organizers refused his request to bar media from the event. That left the debate to Rooney, a former Army lawyer whose family owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. As he's done since Mahoney's troubles catapulted him into the lead, Rooney avoided mentioning them.

Mr. TOM ROONEY (Republican Congressional Candidate, Florida): You might not agree with what I vote or do or say all the time, but somebody that you can be proud of in Washington.

ALLEN: That was as close as he came to discussing Mahoney's behavior and the swift change in his political fortunes. Rooney said the last two weeks had been a rollercoaster ride for him as well, but his campaign has stuck to basics, getting his name in front of the public.

Mr. ROONEY: When you run against an incumbent, it's a daunting task. And most of the problem deals with just getting your name ID up and fundraising to help you do that.

ALLEN: No one has helped Rooney's name recognition more over the last two weeks than his troubled opponent, Mahoney. Mahoney's problems have helped with fundraising as well. In the past week alone, Rooney raised more than $100,000 at events featuring Mitt Romney and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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