TV & Radio
GOP tries to rally voters amid Foley issue
Revives scandals in Democrats' past
By Rick Klein and Susan Milligan, Boston Globe Staff | October 7, 2006
WASHINGTON -- After a week of disarray and finger-pointing, Republicans are trying to rally the party and its base voters around a three-part strategy: close ranks around House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, question whether the Democrats colluded with the media to disclose messages sent by former representative Mark Foley, and focus on Democratic sex scandals to reclaim the GOP's place as a party of strong values.
Although a Republican Senate candidate yesterday called for him to resign, Hastert appears to have weathered the initial flurry of calls for his resignation by lasting a full week after Foley's resignation Sept. 29 -- longer than many analysts thought he could stay on the job.
Now, newly aggressive House Republicans are turning the tables on Democrats by demanding that House Democratic leaders testify under oath about when they knew about Foley's electronic exchanges with House pages.
Seeking to tar the Democratic Party as immoral, conservatives are reaching back to cite cases involving President Clinton, former representative Gary Condit, and two Massachusetts Democrats -- Representative Barney Frank and former representative Gerry Studds.
``Other congressmen on the other side of the aisle are caught in relationships with interns," Representative J.D. Hayworth , an Arizona Republican, said yesterday on the ``Imus in the Morning" radio program. ``Very interesting -- I don't recall anybody demanding that [former House Democratic leader] Dick Gephardt or [House minority leader Nancy] Pelosi or anybody else in the Democrat leadership resign."
In a sign that the scandal involving Foley isn't dissipating, Tom Kean Jr. , a New Jersey Senate hopeful, yesterday became the highest-profile Republican candidate for Congress to call for Hastert to step down for his handling of the Foley matter.
But Hastert's news conference Thursday, at which he said he was ``deeply sorry" about the scandal and accepted responsibility for it, seemed to bring House Republicans back to their famous discipline, at least for the time being.
In the past two days, Hastert received public vows of support from his top two deputies -- majority leader John A. Boehner and majority whip Roy Blunt -- and President Bush, President George H. W. Bush, Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former secretary of state James A. Baker III.
Jack Kingston of Georgia, House Republican Conference vice chairman , said Republicans are relieved the scandal seems to have limited staying power.
``This thing has somewhat run its course," he said. ``As it is now, we've wrung all the blood that we can out of the turnip, and people back home have grown a little bored of it."
Republicans have begun to push back after days of negative media coverage.
Some conservative leaders are attributing Foley's behavior to a society that condones homosexuality -- often with the help of policies championed by Democrats.
``It's a byproduct of this permissive society that says really there's no right or wrong," said Tony Perkins , president of the conservative Family Research Council. The permissiveness can't be blamed on either party, he said, but ``It's advanced more in the policies of the Democratic Party."
In addition, in recent days several Republicans have raised the ethics committee inquiry of Frank, who is gay, as an example of a sex scandal involving a Democratic member of the House.
On MSNBC this week, GOP strategist Brad Blakeman said Frank had ``admitted . . . running a prostitution ring out of his house." In fact, Frank was cited by the ethics committee in 1990 for fixing a parking ticket and writing a letter to a probation officer on behalf of Steve Gobie, a prostitute he was living with; the committee said Frank had no knowledge of any illegal activity being conducted by Gobie from Frank's townhouse.
Frank, a Newton Democrat, called it ``outrageous" to equate Foley's contacts with underage pages with his relationship with Gobie.
``This effort to make this into gay-bashing, in my opinion, is not working at all ," Frank said.
Republicans have begun taking aim at two favorite targets: Democrats and the news media. Representative Phil Gingrey , a Georgia Republican, said on MSNBC yesterday that members of the media should be held accountable if they held off disclosing Foley's contacts with pages for political purposes.
``Let's find out exactly who had those salacious text messages and held them," Gingrey said. ``In withholding that and [not] releasing it in a timely manner, they were putting these 48 pages that are part of the House program in great jeopardy."
Kingston said Republicans are right to ask whether any Democrats had a hand in seeing the Foley electronic messages made public barely a month before a high-stakes congressional election. Democratic leaders have denied any involvement in getting the story out. ABC News disclosed the first batch of e-mails involving Foley, as well as sexually explicit instant-message exchanges.
The head of the New York State Republican committee released this week a list of sex-related episodes he demanded Democrats explain or condemn.
They include episodes or allegations involving state officials, as well as a demand that Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, explain why he didn't vote to expel Studds from the House in the 1980s, after Studds admitted having sex with an underage male page.
But Democrats say the attempts to turn the Foley matter around on them won't work because evidence has emerged suggesting that Hastert and his top aides knew about Foley's contacts with pages long before the e-mails surfaced last week.
Keith Appell , a conservative political strategist, said ``values voters" would not abandon the GOP over the Foley matter, but said he worries that the base could be less motivated to vote.
``The problem with this is that the Republicans really had some momentum over the last couple of weeks," Appell said. ``This somewhat stalls it."