From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby.
Thirty-six days from election day... Even as the "Congressman Mark Foley Matter," as GOP leaders have been calling it, puts a safe Republican seat in play and damages the party's image at a time when their House majority is already endangered, their grip on the other chamber suddenly looks about as shaky.
A series of polls show Republican candidates in the year's most competitive Senate races, including Republican incumbents, trailing or at best tied with their Democratic challengers. The MSNBC/McClatchy/Mason-Dixon Polls show Michael Steele (R) trailing Ben Cardin by 6 points in Maryland; Tom Kean Jr. (R) trailing Sen. Bob Menendez (D) by 3 points in New Jersey; Sen. Rick Santorum (R) trailing Bob Casey Jr. (D) by 9 points in Pennsylvania; Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) trailing Sheldon Whitehouse (D) by one point in Rhode Island; and Mike McGavick (R) trailing Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) by 10 points in Washington state. In Missouri and Virginia, Republican Sens. Jim Talent and George Allen are tied with their Democratic opponents at 43% apiece.
Other polls released yesterday, conducted by Mason-Dixon for other news organizations, show Sen. Conrad Burns (R) down by 7 points in Montana, Sen. Mike DeWine (R) down by 2 points in Ohio, and Bob Corker (R) down a point against Harold Ford (D) in Tennessee. MSNBC.com has all the details.
On the House side, the fast-growing scandal surrounding electronic messages sent by Foley to male teenage pages threatens much more than Foley's formerly safe seat. It conveys a politically risky sense of entitlement among the majority party just weeks before election day. It also has the potential to revive a perception, created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that Republicans don't know how to govern; to deflate the party's conservative base; and to undermine any efforts by the party to play the moral values card over the next five weeks. And it has had House Republicans giving conflicting accounts of who knew what and when.
Per NBC's Pete Williams, the FBI has begun "an assessment" to see if Foley violated any federal laws. A Foley statement issued last night says he "strongly believes" he's an alcoholic and has checked into rehab.
House Republicans' rush to do damage control recalls their frenzy to pass lobbying and ethics reform after Jack Abramoff had his perp walk. That frenzy faded as time passed and they didn't incur the large-scale damage they'd feared. (Incidentally, Abramoff was scheduled to go to prison today, but isn't because he's cooperating with the feds.) But Abramoff had his perp walk back in January -- not five weeks before election day.
The latest RT Strategies poll conducted for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report from September 27-29 shows Democrats with a 13-point lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot test, 48%-35%, and President Bush with a job approval rating of 43% among registered voters. Bush's campaign schedule for the week reflects the limits placed on how much he can help his party due to his poll standing and the unpopular war in Iraq. Further complicating matters for the GOP right now, accounts of an Administration divided over the war appear to be reaching critical mass.
Last week, Bush made a string of appearances for candidates in competitive races -- all behind closed doors. This week, he appears publicly on behalf of candidates who are not in terribly competitive races. First up is the GOP nominee for an open House seat in Nevada which gave Bush 57% of the vote in 2000 and 2004 (Cook Political Report rating: Likely Republican). Tomorrow in California, Bush will raise money for Reps. Richard Pombo and John Doolittle (Cook ratings: Likely Republican, Likely Republican). Close observers know that the only reason why both incumbents are in slight jeopardy is because they've faced some ethical difficulties this year. Both have ties to Abramoff, and both intervened in a federal probe of a big campaign contributor. Right now might not be the most convenient time for the President to be raising money for ethically challenged members of Congress.
Observers might also note that while in California, Bush isn't doing anything with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who has reaped great success with his own re-election campaign by distancing himself from Bush's policies. The new MSNBC/McClatchy/Mason-Dixon Poll shows Schwarzenegger beating Democrat Phil Angelides by 49%-36%.