The Republicans' Evangelical Problem

Almost immediately after Mark Foley's resignation, Newsweek's Howard Fineman publicly speculated about the potential ramifications of the scandal, noting that it could have seriously negative effects not only on Republican turnout but also on the Republican turnout machine, which relies heavily on religious conservative activists as its foot soldiers. Judging by data from the latest Pew poll, Fineman appears to be correct in his assessment, as Alan Cooperman reports for The Washington Post.

Even a small shift in the loyalty of conservative Christian voters such as Sunde could spell trouble for the GOP this fall. In 2004, white evangelical or born-again Christians made up a quarter of the electorate, and 78 percent of them voted Republican, according to exit polls. But some pollsters believe that evangelical support for the GOP peaked two years ago and that what has been called the "God gap" in politics is shrinking.

A nationwide poll of 1,500 registered voters released yesterday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of white evangelicals are inclined to vote for Republican congressional candidates in the midterm elections, a 21-point drop in support among this critical part of the GOP base.

Even before the Foley scandal, the portion of white evangelicals with a "favorable" impression of the Republican Party had fallen sharply this year, from 63 percent to 54 percent, according to Pew polls.

In the latest survey, taken in the last 10 days of September and the first four days of October, the percentage of evangelicals who think that Republicans govern "in a more honest and ethical way" than Democrats has plunged to 42 percent, from 55 percent at the start of the year.

As if this trend were not already bad enough for Republicans, the Mark Foley story does not appear to be going away any time soon. What's more, if we are to believe the statement of Foley's lawyer that his client will speak publicly following the culmination of his stay at an alcohol rehabilitation clinic, Foley's first public appearance since the scandal broke will occur during the last week of the campaign -- further reminding the GOP's religious base why it is unhappy with the party.

But this is not the only worrisome event pertaining to Evangelicals coming up for Republicans during the lead up to the election. The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire, via Hotline On Call, notes that another former administration insider is set to publish a book calling into question the Bush administration's commitment to issues central to the agenda of many conservative Christians.

Late October Surprise?

Caught on the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire:

MORE FLAK: Former White House official David Kuo will publish a book this month slamming administration's commitment to "faith-based" programs. A person familiar with book's content says it will characterize centerpiece of Bush's compassionate conservatism as "big talk, little action."

How will The World, Christianity Today, Charisma, CBN, et. al. cover it?

While I have long believed that religious voters' role in reelecting George W. Bush in 2004 has been overstated -- according to exit polling, Bush's share of the vote of those who attend church at least weekly increased by only 1 point from 2000 to 2004 while his support among those attending church less than once a week increased by 3 to 4 points -- it would nevertheless be a major problem for Republican candidates if their base simply failed to show up on election day or if their core supporters opt not to volunteer for GOTV efforts. Without that manpower, can the GOP's much vaunted 72-hour program really work?

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FL-13: Jennings (D) TROUNCES Buchanan in latest internal

Twelve percent.

In a district that has a high Republican registration advantage. In a district where independent and non-party voters almost equal Democratic voters in registration. In a district that twice elected Katherine Harris. In a district where the Republican candidate has spent more than four times as much as the Democratic candidate.

And in this district, the Democratic nominee, Christine Jennings, is leading by twelve percent, 50-38.

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The legs of Mark Foley's story

Posts that contain "mark Foley" per day for the last 7 days.

As you can see, this story has grown everyday over the last week (this chart is dynamic, so it'll change if you are reading this beyond 10/6). Sex and DC stories have a way of doing that in recent times-- anyone that remembers reading Josh Marshall during the whole Gary Condit implosion can remember the staying power of sex scandals in DC-- especially when Congress is out of session.

I think we've reached a sort of equilibrium in this story though, with the House ethics committee likely to reach some sort of deliberation on it in a week or so from now, that either continues the polarization of it, or reaches some sort of consensus (either way it's political). The implications for this election season are becoming set in stone. Now four weeks away, the Dems are like a football team that came out by 10 coming out of halftime, and now hold a two touchdown lead going into the 4th quarter (George Allen ought to get that one).

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Foley Scandal Not Going Away Any Time Soon

Taking a gander at some of the cable news programs this afternoon, I was struck by the fact that the Mark Foley scandal and discussions about a potential coverup by the Republican leadership in Congress continue to dominate coverage. Brian Ross, who has been leading the coverage from ABC News, continues to unearth new angles to the story, most recently today reporting on three more pages dating back to the class of 1998 coming "forward to reveal what they call 'sexual approaches' over the Internet from" Foley. Denny Hastert's poorly-staged press conference today may have bought him a few more weeks as Speaker, but it did little to divert the attention of either the media or the American people away from the seemingly ever-growing scandal.

Finally, we now have data on Americans' feelings towards the scandal and by and large the numbers augur poorly for the Republicans. When asked by Rasmussen Reports if the Republican leadership just learned of Foley's problems or if they had been protecting him for years, by close to a 3 to 1 margin voters chose the latter. Time, which found President Bush's approval rating to be a mere 36 percent in its survey released today, reported that two-thirds of those aware of the scandal believed there was a coverup by Republican leaders. Time also found that the Democrats hold a 15-point generic congressional ballot lead among registered voters -- the same margin found in an AP-Ipsos poll (.pdf) out today. Pew, which has substantial data from both immediately before and immediately after Foley's resignation, found that the scandal had not yet dramatically affected the sentiments of voters. Nevertheless, Pew found President Bush's approval rating to be 37 percent and the Democrats' generic congressional ballot lead to be 13 points.

As voters have more time to digest this story, it's difficult to imagine that these already terrible numbers for Republicans will get any better. And given that this story will not likely leave our television screens or newspapers any time soon, it's fairly safe to say that the GOP is in for a rough few weeks between now and election day.

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About the Foley scandal

All right; since the GOP seems to want to pin this on Democrats, let's review a few key points.

1.  Mark Foley resigned.  In such a situation, resignation is an admission of guilt.  If there weren't any substance to the story, Foley would have stayed in office, and the whole thing would have blown over.

2.  No Republican has ever denied any wrongdoing on the part of Foley.  Once again, an admission of guilt.  If Foley hadn't done anything wrong, Republicans wouldn't have resorted to blaming the media and Democrats.  At least, not for breaking the story at the worst possible time for them.  Instead, they would have just said something to the effect of "Mark Foley did nothing wrong" and would have gone about their business.

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