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First rule of politics. When the opposition hands you a ready-made campaign issue on a platter, don’t hesitate: Seize the day and run with it.
Writes Marc Sandalow of The San Francisco Chronicle:
Democrats are using the House page scandal in dozens, possibly hundreds, of races across the country to make the case that Republican leaders in Washington have grown drunk with power and should be voted out in November.
Rather than focus on the misdoings of former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who resigned Friday and entered an alcohol rehabilitation program over the weekend, Democratic candidates say the scandal is characteristic of a party preoccupied with protecting its congressional majority at the expense of the public interest.
Less than five weeks before Election Day, analysts from both parties agree that Democrats have been handed a potentially potent gift, bolstering already high expectations of significant gains in November.
Democratic consultant James Carville said if the election were held today, "this thing would be a rout," an assessment shared by a growing number of Republicans.
For more than a year, Democratic leaders have trotted out new slogans trying to play off dissatisfaction with Congress, the war in Iraq and the economy, blaming Republicans for a "culture of corruption" and asserting that the country needs a "new direction" and that "together, we can do better."
In a matter of days, the lurid details of Foley’s e-mails to underage pages and the GOP’s response has provided Democrats an easy-to-digest version of the same story line, and one which they show every intention of keeping alive.
One House candidate, Patty Wetterling of Minnesota, has already begun airing television commercials attacking Republican leaders who "knowingly ignored the welfare of children to protect their power," and Democrats have selected Wetterling to deliver the party’s weekly radio address Saturday.
Scores of candidates from California to Connecticut are keeping the issue before voters by demanding that Republicans renounce House leaders who may have received advance warning of Foley’s troubles, return Foley’s campaign contributions _ which exceed $100,000 during the current campaign _ and join the call for House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois to resign.
"It’s already bigger than Mark Foley. It’s already about Dennis Hastert, the Republican leadership, and how they run the House. It’s playing out and the GOP are scrambling," said independent pollster John Zogby, whose recent polls in battleground districts show Democrats with a comfortable edge as they seek the 15 net seats needed to win majority control of the House.