The stunning announcement by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) that he would resign from Congress has thrust another embattled Republican even more firmly into the spotlight: Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio).
Ney went to great lengths Tuesday to deny that he had any intention of leaving office, and he received public support from his fellow Ohioan, House Majority Leader John Boehner. Boehner said “there’s no pressure” on Ney to quit, although Boehner did acknowledge that Ney faces a difficult re-election battle this fall. Ney, Boehner said, “has got his hands full, but he believes he’s doing well.”
Ohio Democrats and government watchdog groups, however, stepped up their calls for Ney to give up his House seat, with some predicting that he would soon be indicted in the federal corruption probe that has already brought down former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others.
“All the dominos around Bob Ney in that case are falling, and you know in a game of dominos that you’re going to tip over sooner rather than later,” said Brian Rothenberg, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party. “They’re falling all around him, and he’s wobbling right now. You can only wobble so long before you lose your balance.”
One of Ney’s potential opponents in November, Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer, said that Ney “should take another cue from Tom DeLay and retire, for the good of Ohio.”
Ney then issued a defiant statement of his own on Tuesday afternoon.
Ney said that “while I respect Tom DeLay’s decision, I am not Tom DeLay. I have absolutely no intention of retiring. My constituents will make that decision in the next election, and I am grateful for the very strong support I continue to receive when I travel around the district.”
Ney also lashed out at Sulzer and Zack Space, another Democratic candidate, calling them liberal allies of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and unsuitable to represent the 18th district in Ohio.
“If elected to Congress, the first vote either Joe Sulzer or Zack Space will cast will be a vote for liberal San Francisco politics by voting for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House,” Ney said. “This will be a vote for higher taxes, more Second Amendment restrictions, more late-term abortions, more money for the United Nations and a cut-and-run policy in the war on terror.”
However, Ney’s legal and ethical problems have continued to grow with every new twist in the Abramoff probe, and some GOP strategists are privately wondering if it wouldn’t be in the party’s best interests if six-term lawmaker were to follow DeLay out the door.
“It’s when you step and look at it from a 10,000-foot level, what is the right thing to do?” asked a senior House Republican staffer of Ney’s future, suggesting that Ney has not fully come to grips with the scale of his political problems. The source said that Ney is still paying attention to the political atmosphere “at the street level” instead of looking at the overall environment in his district. “The way [DeLay] makes a decision, he’s a tactician. Ney has to be a tactician now too,” the staffer said.
Ney and his lawyers have continued to insist he did nothing wrong. But a Republican strategist close to the House leadership suggested that Ney is only holding onto his seat in order to strengthen his bargaining position in any future negotiations with the Justice Department.
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