Sunday, October 08, 2006

November Elections: The Foley Factor

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Iraq Factor, and its potential effect on the November elections. In the time since then, an even bigger factor has come up: the Foley Factor.

By now, pretty much everyone has heard of Mark Foley and his disgusting X-rated emails and instant messages to teenage male pages at the House of Representatives. What is less apparent is how much damage this will cause to the Republican Party in the upcoming election in November.

I personally think this scandal will cause significant damage to the Republicans, just because of the nature of the Republican party and who supports them. The bulwark of the Republican party's support comes from the southern "Bible Belt": fundamentalist Christians who believe in good old-fashioned "family values". And, Foley's lecherous, homosexual and pedophilic emails fall about as far away from those "family values" as you can get. For many fundamentalist Christians, homosexuality is an abomination before God, and thus seeing a grown man like Foley trying to seduce vulnerable teenagers into what they perceive as a sinful lifestyle is an anathema. If this scandal was surrounding a Democrat, it would not be as damaging (Democrat supporters tend to be more socially liberal), but for a Republican, it erodes at the party's core support base.

The key question in many of the voters' minds will be how early the Republican house leadership knew about Foley's revolting behavior. Early news reports indicate they knew in 2005 and chose to do nothing about it, but some other news reports have suggested concerns about Foley's behavior date back to as early as 2001.

The big problem for the Republicans is this scandal is just in its initial stages, and by the time voters go to the polls, the investigations will still be in their early stages, leaving voters with little to go by except their own instincts. And, if the poll released by Time Magazine today is any indication, these instincts may spell big trouble for the Republicans. In the nationwide poll, 80% of respondents were aware of the scandal, two-thirds believe that Republican leaders tried to cover up the scandal, and only 16% approve of the Republican party's handling of it. A quarter of the respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a Republican candidate as a result of the fiasco.

Between the Iraq factor and the Foley factor, the Democrats are seeming more and more likely to wrest control of the House and possibly the Senate as well this coming November.