Mahoney Gets Cold Shoulder

Posted October 15, 2008 at 6:53pm

With Rep. Tim Mahoney’s (D-Fla.) political future still uncertain as of late Wednesday, Democrats continued to portray the embattled lawmaker as a lone bad apple, while Republicans hoped to score political points in South Florida and elsewhere.

The Florida Republican Party this morning is expected to hold demonstrations at Mahoney’s district offices, demanding that the scandal-tinged lawmaker not seek re-election. The Palm Beach County Republican Party also confirmed on Wednesday that it is now asking for Mahoney’s resignation, provided that he does not respond to accusations that he broke the law.

And while not necessarily demanding that he quit, a House Democratic leadership aide said on Wednesday that “everybody’s really pissed off” at Mahoney, who was gifted the seat two years ago after Rep. Mark Foley (R) stepped down amid allegations that he exchanged lewd messages with minors.

“This is a seat he never should have had and he’s lucky as hell to have had it,” the aide said.

No one on Capitol Hill was openly demanding Mahoney’s resignation Wednesday after ABC News reported earlier in the week that he had had an affair with a staffer and had attempted to pay her off with hush money. But in interviews with Hill insiders on Wednesday, the consensus was that Democratic leaders are letting Mahoney dig his own grave, should he not quit in the coming days. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has already spent more than $400,000 protecting him, is writing off his district, which an unreleased Democratic poll from last week showed Mahoney winning by 20 points — before the scandal broke.

“It will be up to the voters to make their decision and we’re going to leave it at that,” the leadership aide said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) agreed that Mahoney has little choice but to see it through to Election Day. Hoyer said on Wednesday that the compressed timeline has left little room for him to drop out of the race at this point.

“I think with three weeks left to go, he’s asked for an ethics investigation, and there’s not much alternative,” said Hoyer, who said he first learned of the affair on Monday when a reporter asked him about it.

According to the Florida secretary of state’s office, the Nov. 4 ballots are already printed and replacing Mahoney on the ticket would be impossible. But should the lawmaker step aside, the Florida Democratic Party would have 12 days to name a stand-in — even though Mahoney’s name would remain on the ballot. But with so many state elections taking place this cycle, finding a credible replacement candidate would be another headache altogether.

“There’d be a whole bunch of people getting into a fight over it,” a Florida Democratic operative said. “It’d probably have to be a local or county official that is currently not on the ballot.”

House Republican leaders on Wednesday continued to bash some of their Democratic counterparts, accusing them of turning a blind eye to Mahoney’s infractions.

“The situation with Rep. Mahoney is only the latest example of their failure to live up to their rhetoric. Serious questions remain about the roles played by Reps. Emanuel and Van Hollen, and the American people deserve the truth,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Hoyer rejected Boehner’s suggestions that Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) needed to explain what they knew of the affair and when, as Republican leaders did when the Foley scandal erupted in the fall of 2006.

“I think Mr. Boehner would love to make a parallel with problems they’ve had,” Hoyer said, adding that the situations aren’t analogous. “Foley was putting at risk children who were put in our charge,” he said, and GOP leaders who caught wind of the scandal before it became public failed to act.

In Mahoney’s case, “If there was a speculation about an affair, it’s a violation of your responsibility to your family, but not the rules.”

Hoyer said he has not talked to Emanuel or Van Hollen “about what they knew or when they knew it.”

But a House GOP leadership aide said Mahoney, Emanuel and other Democrats had made “extraordinarily sanctimonious” statements about the Foley situation, and admitted a sense of schadenfreude now that the sex scandal shoe was on the other party’s foot.

For Emanuel and Van Hollen to have known about the rumors of Mahoney’s affairs and not investigated further — and to have supported his campaign — “is in stark contrast to the statements they made a couple of years ago and a clear instance of hypocrisy,” the aide said. “The Democratic leadership appears to either have turned a willful blind eye or swept the situation under the rug with Mr. Mahoney, and they demanded to be held to a higher standard.”

The Mahoney blowup this week is one of the few headaches this election season for House Democratic leaders, who hope to ride another wave election to big victories in November.

Although Republican leaders have been keen to draw comparisons to the Foley scandal, the Mahoney allegations don’t involve inappropriate contacts with former House pages as in Foley’s case.

What’s more, Rep. Vito Fossella’s (R-N.Y.) DUI arrest this spring and subsequent revelation of an affair and secret love child doesn’t appear to have had much impact beyond his district. But the timing of the Mahoney news — and the allegations of a payoff — is worse, and GOP leaders are certainly trying to make what hay they can.

Boehner ripped the initial Democratic response of calling for an ethics committee investigation as inadequate, and later urged Democratic leaders to testify under oath about what they knew and when they knew it — as Republican leaders did in the Foley matter.

“As Congressman Emanuel has said, he agrees with Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] that the ethics committee should take up their investigation with all due haste and of course is more than happy to speak with the committee if they are interested in speaking with him,” an Emanuel spokeswoman said.

But even some Republicans are uncertain how much traction the GOP can get from the scandal, even in Mahoney’s district. Palm Beach County Republican Party Chairman Sid Dinerstein said on Wednesday that he remains concerned about the expected 20 percent jump in voter participation on Election Day, which could aid Democrats. He also said that despite the scandal, it “doesn’t have the legs that the Foley story had,” and damage for Democrats is unlikely to spread elsewhere in the state.

“The media never gives our side a break,” he said.

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.