From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby.
With 22 days to go, the GOP's ethical issues have proliferated rather than died down. Republican members continue to troop before the Ethics Committee -- including House Majority Leader John Boehner, who's scheduled to appear tomorrow -- in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal. Rep. Bob Ney (R) of Ohio pled guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for helping disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and plans to resign. News media mining recently disclosed e-mails from Abramoff and his associates are reporting on help Abramoff got from the White House, including the current chair of the Republican National Committee.
And that's just the Foley- and Abramoff-related stuff. Sen. George Allen has improperly disclosed stock options. Sen. Arlen Specter is cooperating with a probe of whether one of his staffers directed business to her lobbyist husband. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, balancing things out a bit, has asked his chamber's ethics panel to look into whether he improperly disclosed a real estate transaction that reaped him a $700,000 profit. Longtime Rep. Curt Weldon (R) of Pennsylvania is being investigated by the FBI for potentially steering business to his 28-year-old daughter's consulting firm.
President Bush, who stood with embattled House Speaker Dennis Hastert last week, this week campaigns publicly for another GOP member in Pennsylvania who's airing a TV ad in which he apologizes for having an affair. By the end of this week, per spokesman Tony Snow, most of Bush's political appearances will be public and held at larger venues.
Even as Bush continues to raise millions for the party, its operatives are redirecting resources away from races they don't expect to win. The New York Times reports that national Republicans are readjusting their Senate "firewall" and cutting back their investment in Sen. Mike DeWine's re-election campaign in Ohio, a state where Republicans have been particularly hard-hit by scandal. The RNC rejects the suggestion: "We have invested a significant amount of resources in Ohio and will continue to invest considerable resources in Ohio," communications director Brian Jones tells First Read. The party's House campaign committee also continues to spend money to protect incumbents there, says spokesman Carl Forti. Still, Republicans in Washington fear that struggling gubernatorial nominee Ken Blackwell will drag down the entire ticket.
On that note, with just over three weeks to go, none of the party's hand-picked African-American statewide candidates appear positioned to win. Gubernatorial nominees Blackwell and Lynn Swann of Pennsylvania and Senate nominee Michael Steele of Maryland all trail their Democratic opponents, Blackwell and Swann by seemingly insurmountable margins. Two African-American statewide candidates appear positioned to win this cycle, both Democrats: Senate nominee Harold Ford of Tennessee and gubernatorial nominee Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.
Most of the national attention has gone to Ford and the question of whether or not an African-American can get elected statewide in the South. Yet a Patrick victory in Massachusetts would be nearly as remarkable, making him the state's first African-American governor, only the second elected anywhere in US history, and the first Democratic governor elected in Massachusetts since Michael Dukakis left office in 1991. As it happens, Republicans are seeking to defeat Patrick, an attorney, with the same tactic they used to help sink Dukakis' presidential prospects in 1988: accusing him of being soft on crime. But the attacks take on added resonance because Patrick himself is African-American, and raise the possibility that the sharp accusations will undercut the GOP's broader effort to court black voters.
Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R), who lags in the polls, has made Patrick's past efforts to help a convicted rapist (as a lawyer in private practice) and defense of a confessed cop killer (on behalf of the NAACP legal defense fund) her main points of attack. Healey is hoping to gain support among the state's more conservative white Democrats and women voters by charging that Patrick is soft on crime. While Massachusetts is known as one of the most liberal states in the nation, no one would say it's because of residents' sentiments toward African-Americans. Since Healey began these attacks, she has cut Patrick's lead by about half. After a Boston Herald story last week compelled Patrick to provide details of a 1993 incident in which his sister was raped by her estranged husband, who then spent time in jail, the campaigns began fighting over who disclosed the story for political purposes. The Boston Globe quoted Dukakis saying it "makes Willie Horton look mild by comparison."