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2/05/2006 

For a change, incumbents feel the heat

Chicago Tribune, February 5, 2006:
The congressional corruption scandal has stirred waves of anxiety across the country for politicians whose names appear on the November ballot, but perhaps no place in America is the power of incumbency as wobbly as in Ohio.

Republicans are rattled by ethical lapses and criminal charges throughout the ranks of state government here, topped by Gov. Bob Taft's pleading no contest last summer to four counts of state ethics violations. Now they find themselves facing credible congressional opponents for the first time in years as Democrats eye a handful of seats they believe could be among the ripest targets in the battle for control of Congress.

[...]

The fallout from the ethics scandal has even dogged some incumbent members of Congress who are seeking other offices. Corruption has emerged as an issue in at least three gubernatorial races--in Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada--where GOP members of Congress are on the ticket.

But here in Chillicothe, where seven churches sit along a five-block stretch of Main Street, corruption has become a local issue.

Ney, who was elected in 1994 to represent Ohio's 18th Congressional District, has been implicated in the federal fraud investigation of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has agreed to testify against members of Congress as part of a plea bargain. Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett has said if Ney is indicted, he should not run for re-election.

Ney, however, maintains his innocence and retorted that he would not allow some "party boss" to make a decision that belongs to Ney's constituents. So he came to a restaurant here last month and announced his drive for re-election.

"I don't know all the details, but he's in some hot water, and the truth will come out," said Randy Rinehart, 52, a local minister who is trying to keep an open mind. "A lot of people have a price on their souls--especially in politics."

Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, dismissed the suggestion that all GOP candidates could suffer from the lobbying scandal. But he conceded that whoever is swept up in the investigation faces a challenge.

"I think Bob Ney has a tough race," Reynolds said. "It may get to a point where all the skies are clear . . . but I don't know what the future might hold."

Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer, recruited by Emanuel to run against Ney, said ethics would play "a huge role" in the race.

"The very reason why both political parties are sponsoring ethical reforms in the United States Congress is because of Bob Ney," Sulzer said. "The average voter here is already weary of the political scandals because of what they have seen in Columbus and now they are seeing it from their own congressman."

John Wright, a professor of political science at Ohio State University, said Democrats appeared to have recruited more candidates than in most years.

"The problem Republicans are experiencing right now is a perception of arrogance and corruption, which was the undoing of the Democrats in 1994," Wright said. "Whether or not this has reached the same proportions I don't know, but I would be worried if I were a Republican."
Source