WASHINGTON (AP) – More Democrats went on the attack Friday with campaign ads linking Republican candidates to the Mark Foley House page scandal while GOP candidates moved to distance themselves from embattled Speaker Dennis Hastert.

This morning, Democrat Patty Wetterling, a candidate for an open House seat in Minnesota, will continue the attack in the Democratic response to President Bush’s weekly radio address as the party looks to reap political gains in coming midterm elections.

“Foley sent obvious predatory signals, received loud and clear by members of congressional leadership, who swept them under the rug to protect their political power,” Wetterling said in the prerecorded address. “We must hold accountable all those complicit in allowing this victimization to happen.”

Republican New Jersey Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. Friday became the first major GOP candidate to call for Hastert to resign, while additional campaign appearances by Hastert for House GOP candidates got canceled. Hastert has come under heavy attack within his party’s rank and file for damage inflicted on the party just weeks before the Nov. 7 elections.

“Hastert should resign as speaker,” Kean said. “He is the head of the institution and this happened on his watch.”

Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a Republican write-in candidate in the race to replace Tom DeLay in Texas, decided not to pursue plans to invite Hastert to raise money for her campaign after the Foley scandal broke.

“We just made a decision not to have” a fundraiser with Hastert, said Sekula-Gibbs’ campaign manager, Lisa Dimond.

Democrats stepped up their attacks.

“What is going on in Washington? … Deborah Pryce’s friend Mark Foley is caught using his position to take advantage of 16-year-old pages. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert looked the other way,” says an ad for Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, challenging seven-term Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, the No. 4 Republican in the House in a particularly competitive race.

And in culturally conservative southern Indiana, former Democratic Rep. Baron Hill took to the airwaves Friday with an ad attacking freshman Republican Mike Sodrel for taking thousands of dollars in donations from House GOP leaders, “who knew about but did nothing to stop sexual predator congressman Foley.”

At the same time, Hastert canceled plans to raise money for Sodrel on Tuesday.

Earlier, Rep. Ron Lewis, R-Ky., a Baptist preacher and social conservative, canceled plans for a fundraiser with Hastert, who also dropped an appearance with Ohio GOP candidate Joy Padgett, who is in an uphill race to replace the disgraced Rep. Bob Ney.

The nonstop news cycles for over a week have been filled with details of Foley’s lurid messages to former pages and accusations by former top Foley staff aide Kirk Fordham that top GOP aides, including some in Hastert’s office, knew about Foley’s problems and the issue of the pages years ago.

But with no significant developments Friday, GOP strategists hoped the party could catch its breath and gain traction on issues like lower gas prices, the peaking stock market and the economy. Great skittishness remained about unforeseen developments in the Foley saga, nevertheless.

Democrats are increasingly optimistic that they will retake the House and possibly even the Senate. Even a prominent Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, seemed pessimistic about his party keeping its hold on the House.

“It’s happened in the past that we’ve had divided government in terms of the House and Senate,” Cornyn said. “I’m sure we’ll do our best to work together to try to address the nation’s problems.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.