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A case study of political fallout in an election-year scandal
By Adam Nagourney The New York Times
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2006
COLUMBUS, Ohio: Representative Deborah Pryce is a Republican and a member of the House leadership who has represented a district in central Ohio for 14 years.
She is also, as she told Columbus Monthly for a feature it published last month, friends with Mark Foley, the congressman who resigned last week for sending sex-related text messages to congressional pages.
Pryce knew she would have a difficult re-election battle this year in a state raked by Republican scandals. But since Foley quit, Pryce said in an interview on a tense day of campaigning here, her own polls have measured a steady drop in support under the weight of attacks by Mary Jo Kilroy, her Democratic opponent. Kilroy has emphasized Pryce's connections to Foley, who was on a list of five people whom Pryce said in the Columbus Monthly interview that she considered Washington friends.
"I'm totally convinced," Pryce said, her voice faint, as she described why her support had declined. "All our polling showed we were going in the right direction until this happened. It fell precipitously.
"It's very sad that sometimes we're slipped up by things that we have no control over and have absolutely nothing to do with. But that is part and parcel of politics."
This contest, in which Pryce and Kilroy are described as tied in internal party polls, has emerged as a case study of how the fallout from the Foley scandal is causing problems for Republicans across the United States.
But it is also unusual in a way that reflects the intriguing diversity of this Ohio district, the 15th, and all the swirling complications of an explosive scandal that emerged just four weeks before Election Day.
Kilroy is using the Foley scandal to try to undercut Pryce systematically with a big component of the Republican base here, Christian conservatives, when Republicans have already been worried that those voters would stay home on Election Day.
"Deborah Pryce's friend Mark Foley is caught using his position to take advantage of 16-year-old pages," an announcer says in advertisements the Kilroy campaign has placed on Christian radio stations.
Pryce responded by accusing Kilroy of gay-baiting. She said in an interview she was hopeful that she could win over gay voters in a city long known for a large gay population, particularly because the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy organization, has endorsed both candidates. "She feels that the gay and lesbian population is a very big component of her support," Pryce said. "And she really is kind of baiting with this in terms of Mark Foley."
Few other issues are getting the same kind of attention here. The case has become an issue in an increasing number of races, officials in both parties said. But nowhere has it become quite as pitched as it has here, where Kilroy - who had already been trying to link Pryce to corruption scandals in Ohio involving Republicans - has moved in with withering attacks since Foley resigned.
In an interview on Wednesday, Kilroy questioned whether Pryce had had any warning about Foley's conduct, and why Pryce, the No. 4 Republican in the House, had not called for the resignation of Representative Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the speaker.
Even before Foley resigned, Pryce was running into a stiff wind. The scandals that have swept this state involving Republican officeholders have caused problems for Republicans up and down the ballot. Surveys show that Ohio Republicans are at risk of losing a Senate seat, the governor's office and as many as five seats in Congress.
Pryce's elevation after the 2002 election to the House leadership ranks, if helpful to her in Washington, made her vulnerable to the very kind of anti-incumbent campaign being run by Kilroy, even before Foley quit and questions were raised about that leadership.
Although Pryce is conservative on spending and other issues, she opposed a ban on same-sex marriage and has supported other gay rights initiatives.
But Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, disputed Pryce's characterization of Kilroy's attacks on the Foley resignation. He said he had reviewed the Kilroy radio advertisements and thought she had gone to great pains to make clear she was criticizing Foley for improper behavior with a teenage page, not for being gay. "I don't think it's gay-baiting at all," he said.
Asked about Pryce's claims, Kilroy said: "This is about a member of Congress abusing his position with pages, and it's about how the Republican leadership engaged in a cover-up, and it's about Deborah Pryce not speaking out against that. It's not about anyone's sexual orientation."