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Scandals Scorch House GOP

mark foley capitol generic
CBS/AP
By CBS News Political Consultant Samuel J. Best

A key factor in the Democratic takeover of the House was the scandals plaguing Republican incumbents.

Nationally, more voters named corruption as an extremely important factor in their House voter than any other issue. Forty-one percent of voters said corruption was as an extremely important factor in their vote, compared to 39 percent who said terrorism and 39 percent who said the economy.

Of those naming corruption as an extremely important issue in their vote, 60 percent voted for the Democrat, compared to 36 percent who voted for the Republican candidate.

At least 13 seats that switched from Republican to Democrat involved Republicans mired in scandal. Although high profile scandals involving Jack Abramoff and Mark Foley touched the most races, numerous isolated scandals also affected incumbent House Republicans.

Foley Scandal

Voters were particularly upset with the way Republicans dealt with the Mark Foley scandal, in which the former congressman sent sexually explicit text messages and emails to congressional pages. Fifty-four percent of voters disapproved of the way Republican leaders in Congress handled Mark Foley and the congressional page scandal. Of those who disapproved of the Republicans handling of the Foley scandal, 74 percent voted for a Democratic house candidate.

The Foley scandal played a role in switching three congressional districts from Republican to Democrat control. Republicans lost the 16th Congressional District of Florida, which Foley represented, when Democratic candidate Tim Mahoney defeated Republican Joe Negron who the Florida Republican Party named to run as a replacement.

House Republican Sue Kelly, representing the 19th Congressional District of New York, lost to Democratic candidate John Hall, after she came under fire for not being more aware of the problem while she was Chair of House Page Board from 1999-2001.

Representative Jim Ryun, representing Kansas' 2nd Congressional District, lost to Democrat Nancy Boyda, in part, because of his connections to Foley. He ran into trouble when he did not initially disclose that he lived across the street from Foley in Washington and hosted a fundraiser with him.

Mistreatment of Women

Two Republican incumbents were defeated because of their alleged mistreatment of women.

Don Sherwood, a House Republican representing the Pennsylvania's 10th congressional district, lost to Democratic candidate Christopher Carney. Sherwood's re-election campaign was hurt when a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair accused him of assaulting her during their relationship.

Republican John Sweeney, representing the 20th congressional district in New York, lost to Democratic candidate Kirsten Gillibrand, when reports surfaced that police filed a domestic incident report stemming from complaints by his wife that he assaulted her.

Abramoff Scandal

The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal also hurt several incumbent Republicans. Jack Abramoff pled guilty earlier this year to felony counts of conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion in connection to charges stemming from his lobbying activities on behalf of several Native American tribes. Abramoff steered tribal campaign contributions to congressmen in exchange for legislative favors, such as supporting legislation and placing statements in the Congressional Record. Although the ongoing investigation has only implicated a few members of Congress, at least four incumbent Republicans have lost their re-election campaigns because of their inability to explain campaign contributions they have received from Abramoff and his clients.

Republicans lost the 18th Congressional District in Ohio, which had been occupied by Bob Ney for more than a decade. Ney resigned earlier in the month after pleading guilty to conspiracy for using his position as the Chairman of the House Administration Committee to grant favors to Abramoff in exchange for trips and meals. Joy Padgett, who won the special primary to replace Ney, was defeated by Democrat nominee Zachary Space.

Republican Charles Taylor, representing North Carolina's 11th Congressional District, lost to former Tennessee quarterback Heath Schuler. Taylor had received donations from Abramoff and his clients, but refused to explain his relationship with Abramoff, despite repeated calls to do so.

House Republican Richard Pombo was defeated by Jerry McNerney in California's 11th Congressional District. Pombo allegedly helped one of Abramoff;s clients, the Mashpee Indians of Massachusetts, gain official recognition in exchange for campaign funds.

Incumbent Republican Gil Gutknecht, who also allegedly received funds from Abramoff's clients, lost to Democratic candidate Tim Walz in Minnesota's 1st Congressional District.

Corruption

The Abramoff scandal was not the only corruption scandal to undermine Republican House members. Four incumbents lost, in part, due to ethical issues raised during their campaigns

House Republican Rick O'Donnell, representing the 7th Congressional District in Colorado, was defeated by Democratic candidate Ed Perlmutter, in part, because of reports that he flew to Panama on a weekend trip financed by a television network doing business with the state agency he headed.

Republican incumbent Curt Weldon, representing Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, lost to Democratic candidate Joseph Sestak, Jr., after he was alleged to have used his clout in Congress to help his daughter's company obtain lobbying contracts.

Republicans lost the 22th Congressional District in Texas, which had been occupied by former Republican Whip Tom Delay. Delay resigned he was indicted by a Texas grand jury on a criminal conspiracy charge in a campaign financing scheme, although his name remained on the ballot. Republicans attempted to coordinate a write-in campaign for Shelly Sekula-Gibbs, but she was defeated by Democrat nominee Nicholas Lampson.

House Republican Clay Shaw, representing Florida's 22nd district, lost to Democrat candidate Ron Klein, in part, for receiving campaign contributions from Tom Delay's political action committee. His opponent had demanded that he return the funds, but he refused to do so.

Samuel J. Best is an associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut. He has published a book and several scholarly articles on American public opinion and survey research. He holds a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

The exit polls mentioned in this story were conducted by Edison/Mitofsky Research for the National Election Pool among 13,208 voters nationwide as they left the polls on November 7, 2006. The margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 1 percentage point for the entire sample.