By MARA LEE
Scripps Howard News Service
September 29, 2006
Democrats need to win 15 seats to take over, and Foley's Florida seat was considered safe for Republicans - until Friday, when the six-term lawmaker quit amid reports that he sent sexually explicit Internet messages to teens who worked as congressional pages.
Nathan Gonzales, a political analyst with the Rothenberg Political Report, said that, around the country, "Republicans are already on the defensive. This just adds to their list of headaches."
The Rothenberg Political Report was predicting a Democratic gain of 15 to 20 seats before the resignation.
Tom Riehle, a partner at the polling firm RT Strategies, said this race was not on its list of 30 contests that could change the majority in the House. Now, his company will be polling in the district for its Majority Watch poll, which will be released in mid-October.
He said that when a Congress member has been in office for a long time and has voter loyalty, "quite often, the only thing that can unseat him or her is a personal scandal."
Riehle said Rep. Don Sherwood, R-Pa., is facing a similar problem, because of news coverage of his affair with a woman who is 30 years his junior. Sherwood polled at 43 percent, and his opponent at 50 percent in the Majority Watch poll.
Riehle, who has worked for Democrats before founding the bipartisan firm, said the Florida election calculus is complicated.
"They didn't recruit an A-level candidate on the Democrat side, but it's very late to recruit an A-level candidate on the Republican side."
GOP leaders were considering a Republican statehouse representative from the region, but did not name Foley's replacement Friday.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee praised its candidate, Tim Mahoney, as a serious contender.
Mahoney "has been conducting a vigorous campaign for more than a year and running television ads for almost a month. He has raised over $700,000 and he's personally donated an additional $349,000," read a memo released by the DCCC communications department. "In the latest poll in the district, conducted by (Democratic pollsters) Hamilton Beattie and completed September 14th, Foley was under 50 percent."
Under Florida election law, it's too late for Foley's name to be removed from the ballot. But all votes for him will go to the Republican nominee who replaces him.
University of Virginia political-science professor Larry Sabato said the Republican would have a good chance to win, but he wondered if people would want to vote for Foley, even knowing he's not the nominee. He called it "the yuck factor."
He predicted the scandal would not taint other Republican incumbents and pointed out that former Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., who went to prison for taking bribes, was replaced in a special election by another Republican who was working as a lobbyist.
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