Will scandals damage GOP election
By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
October 01, 2005
A scandal checklist
By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
WASHINGTON -- It appears that
scandal in Washington has become that rarest of all political
animals - a nonpartisan affair.
It was former Republican House
Speaker Newt Gingrich who asserted in 1994 that Congress had
become a "corrupt institution" after 40 years of Democratic
control. He led the political fight that resulted in the GOP
grabbing control of both the House and Senate - a status it retains
to this day.
Indeed, during the late 1980s
and early 1990s, majority Democrats encountered several ethical
troubles, including one that forced former House Speaker Jim
Wright to step down. But the past few months have firmly established
that the Democrats aren't the only party that can be tainted
by scandal and face the prospect of paying a price on Election
Here's a short list of some
of the recent problems bedeviling Republicans.
- Senate Republican Leader
Bill Frist, pondering a presidential run in 2008, ordered the
blind trust handling his substantial assets to sell all his shares
of HCA, his family's hospital company, in June. Just two weeks
after the sale was complete, HCA reported lower-than-expected
earnings for the second quarter of 2005, forcing a drop in the
share price and eliciting whispers that Frist benefited from
insider information. The Securities and Exchange Commission and
the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York are investigating.
- Rep. Randy "Duke"
Cunningham of California, a Vietnam War hero, already has announced
he will not seek re-election in 2006 after finding himself in
hot water on a number of fronts. In 2003, Cunningham sold his
Del Mar-area residence to Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor,
for what many consider an inflated price - $1.675 million. Wade,
who is with MZM Inc., resold the house seven months later at
a $700,000 loss. Cunningham serves on the House Appropriations
Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, panels that
oversee government dealings with MZM.
- House Republican Leader Tom
DeLay, long a target of Democrats drained by his hardball political
tactics, was indicted Wednesday by a Travis County, Texas, grand
jury in a campaign money-laundering scheme. Under Texas law,
corporations are prohibited from making contributions to individual
political campaigns. The grand jury maintains that a group founded
by DeLay, Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee,
dispatched about $190,000 in corporate funds to the Republican
National Committee in Washington. The RNC then returned a like
amount of money that was distributed among Texas GOP legislative
- Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio has
hired a criminal defense lawyer in reaction to a federal investigation
into the dealings of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a man
who also maintains close ties with DeLay. Newsweek reported that
Abramoff planned a golf excursion to Scotland as a favor for
the chairman of the House Administration Committee. Ney supported
legislation that would help Abramoff's client, the Tigua tribe
of Texas, reopen a casino. It is against House ethics rules for
members to take trips paid for by lobbyists.
- The Republican-controlled
White House also finds itself in the hot seat. David Safavian,
who served as President Bush's chief procurement officer, resigned
in early September and was arrested a few days later by federal
authorities for lying to investigators probing a web of Abramoff
- And then there is the brouhaha
that remains the focus of conversation on the Washington cocktail
party circuit - who within the administration revealed the identity
of undercover CIA operative Valerie Wilson to the media? A federal
grand jury is looking into it. Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper
said he got the dirt from Karl Rove, the president's political
guru. Judith Miller of The New York Times, who went to jail for
contempt of court for refusing to reveal her source, now acknowledges
she was told by Scooter Libby, chief of staff for Vice President
Distributed by Scripps
Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
WASHINGTON - Republicans have
maintained control of both Congress and the White House for five
years, but the party has been put on edge by a run of adversity
- from ethical questions dogging its leaders to an apparent public
disaffection with the country's overall direction.
Over the past week, House Republican
Leader Tom DeLay of Texas was indicted for violating his state's
campaign finance laws, and Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist
of Tennessee learned that he is under investigation by the Securities
and Exchange Commission for possible insider trading violations.
Meanwhile, President Bush is
reeling from negative public reaction to the economy, the war
in Iraq and the federal government's reaction to the hell wrought
by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Democrats hope the GOP tribulations
will damage Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections. Republicans
lost big in 1976 after the political avalanche that was Watergate,
and Democrats lost control of the House in 1994 when back-bench
Republicans, led by soon-to-be Speaker Newt Gingrich, made stick
charges that Democrats were maintaining a "corrupt institution."
But times change. In 1976 and
1994, during less partisan times, dozens of congressional seats
were competitive and could conceivably change hands election
That no longer is the case.
Drawing the lines of congressional districts has become a fine
art, intended for the most part to provide either a safe haven
for incumbents or an opportunity for the party in power - the
Republicans in this case.
The current breakdown shows
231 Republicans in the House compared to 202 Democrats with one
independent, Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who usually votes
with the Democrats. Democrats would have to pick up 15 seats
to regain the majority.
Charlie Cook, editor of the
Cook Political Report, maintains that to this point, Democrats
have failed to field enough top-notch contenders to make a difference,
although the recruiting season has not yet come to a close. Some
analysts see as few as 35 seats as legitimately competitive this
In the Senate, six seats need
to change hands for Democrats to take control. Despite the recent
spate of negative news, only two Republican incumbents - Sen.
Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sen. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode
Island - appear to face major hurdles.
Still, polls suggest the American
public has tired of the Republican monopoly on government. A
Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, conducted Sept. 27-28, shows
40 percent believes the country would be better served by a Democrat
victory next year, while only 32 percent would feel better with
Republicans in control.
Democracy Corps, a pro-Democrat
organization founded by two political heavy hitters - James Carville
and pollster Stan Greenburg - said a survey it conducted shows
60 percent of the public wants the country to go in a "significantly
different direction than Bush." Carville and Greenburg maintain
the GOP troubles have more to do with discontent over Bush than
concerns about the ethics of Frist and DeLay.
"This is about George
Bush, though voters are taking out their discontent on the Republicans
in Congress," they said.
Carville and Greenburg say
undecided voters at this juncture are more willing to listen
to Democratic entreaties than Republican, and that most of these
"winnable" voters are women - all factors that point
to Democratic success.
Despite his indictment, DeLay
remains favored to retain his congressional seat in 2006, though
his future within the House GOP leadership is clouded. He has
no aspirations for higher office and Bush, who has yet to reach
even the midway point of his second term, never has to worry
about standing for the public's approval again.
That means the man with potentially
the most to lose is Frist, who already has said he doesn't intend
to seek re-election to his Tennessee seat and is pondering a
campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Early
polls showed him looking in from the outside and the latest round
of bad news is unlikely to enhance his possibilities.
Contact Bill Straub
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