Scandals to Decide Power in House


Today the Hotline blog reports that scandal may be an important element in this year’s elections after all, something which I have written about here previously. The Hotline blog contrasts two possible narratives for the aftermath of a Democratic victory in the House, scandal vs. wave. If “the Dems win control by only a narrow majority, ethics scandals” affecting FL-16, OH-18, TX-22, PA-10, and NY-26 “will have provided the majority for victory.” However, a wave election would showcase a dramatic shift in the northeast including large GOP losses in upstate New York and the suburbs of Philadelphia. A wave could not be possible without many victories coming from the ethics scandal category itself.

Numerous races are being affected by the Mark Foley scandal and certain incumbents are still fighting hard against allegations of improper contacts with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. These races constitute much more than the aforementioned races. The Foley matter has not only made Democratic pick-ups in FL-16 and NY-26 likely but it is rubbing off onto races in districts that abut Foley’s former district. The open seat in FL-13 vacated by Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Florida, and the seat held by Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Florida, in FL-22 have both shifted in the favor of the Democratic candidate in just this past month. Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, is also finding herself trailing in recent polls as she is attacked by her opponent for being in the Republican leadership and doing nothing about Foley (whether she has any real connection to the matter is another story). Another race seemingly affected by Foley’s misconduct is in the open seat race in MN-06 where Democrat Patty Wetterling has pulled ahead in polls as she has talked about the kidnapping of her son in relation to the Foley’s internet dalliances with teenage boys (Foley’s signature child protection legislation was named after Wetterling’s son). That’s six races that have been significantly affected by the Foley scandal.

The Abramoff issue has been covered here before but we can still go through the races that could swing on the issue. Already former Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s district looks like an almost assured pick-up for Democrats. Rep. Bob Ney’s Ohio district looks likely to swing to Democrats as well considering that the Republican nominee was handpicked by the soon-to-be jailed congressman. In California new documents are putting House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., on the spot as he attempts to deny ever meeting with Jack Abramoff. Polls show Pombo and his challenger neck and neck in this conservative California district. Further north is Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., who is also fighting to retain his seat amid allegations of improper dealings with Abramoff. And let’s not forget the Senate seat of Conrad Burns in Montana. Burns looks like a likely loser right now and he can thank Abramoff for providing some of the nails.

Personal corruption and ethics scandals are also affecting individual races. Rep. Don Sherwood, R-Pa., is suffering in his run for reelection after his mistress filed charges that he tried to choke her. Sherwood has already run one incredibly embarrassing apology advertisement. In New York, Rep. John Sweeney is being hit for his alcohol-related problems including a couple of drunk-driving convictions and a 2004 appearance at a frat party where he was photographed highly intoxicated with amused and equally intoxicated college kids. New Jersey Rep. Mike Ferguson’s late night bar escapades recently became campaign fodder after he allegedly tried to pick-up a young woman at a bar in Georgetown despite being married.

These represent 13 House races and one Senate race where congressional or personal scandals have become central to the individual race narrative. There are also local scandals, in Ohio and Kentucky, which could cost even more incumbents their seat in the Congress. Since the Democrats need to win 15 seats to gain a majority in the House it is highly likely that, wave or no wave, ethics scandals will play a key role in deciding who will control the House in 2007. If power does shift in the House corruption and scandal will be a part of the narrative no matter if the victory is small or big as either one will have required victories that wouldn’t have been possible without public ethics scandals.