WASHINGTON – The congressional page scandal involving the Republican-run House’s handling of former Rep. Mark Foley will make it more difficult for the GOP to maintain control of Congress in November, Republicans acknowledged Sunday, insisting that anyone responsible for covering up the scandal must be held accountable.

Also, the Washington Post reported Sunday night that a former page showed Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., some Internet messages from Foley that had made the page uncomfortable. Kolbe’s press secretary, Korenna Cline, told the Post that a Kolbe staff member advised the page last week to discuss the matter with the clerk of the House.

Cline denied the messages were sexually explicit, telling the Post only that they had made the former page uncomfortable. She said “corrective action” was taken, although she did not know whether that went beyond Kolbe’s confrontation with Foley.

The scandal already has spilled into a congressional district far from the Florida home of the disgraced former congressman who resigned amid news reports of his sexually explicit communications with a House page.

Rep. Tom Reynolds, the New York Republican who serves as chairman of his party’s congressional campaigns and maintains that he alerted House Speaker Dennis Hastert about “overly friendly” e-mails that Foley had sent to a page months ago, faces a tough re-election fight back home, according to a new poll. Reynolds is personally defending his role in the matter with a television ad.

Republicans, while cautioning that “30 days is an eternity” in the congressional campaigns leading to Election Day on Nov. 7, acknowledge that the scandal makes it difficult to make their own messages heard.

“There is a little window of opportunity (to regain control of the campaign), but it is closing in on us fast,” said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., appearing Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “This is going to be the most difficult 30 days in the last 12 years that we’ve been the majority party.

“It’s a tough lift right now,” said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., a former chairman of his party’s congressional campaigns, appearing alongside LaHood on the nationally televised show.

“It’s certainly not helpful,” Davis said. “Thirty days is an eternity in politics. … But this adds to a very difficult atmosphere for Republican candidates going into the last 30 days, where it’s difficult to get what I call oxygen for the (party’s own) message.”

The Republican congressmen, while joining others in supporting Hastert’s continuing service as speaker, also have added a caveat that other Republicans are voicing about federal investigations under way.

Asked if Hastert, R-Ill., should resign as speaker, Davis said: “Let’s wait until the investigation,” at the same time adding that “anybody that hindered this in any kind of way, tried to step in the way (in) hiding this, covering it up, is going to have to step down, whoever that is.”

Sen. Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican seeking re-election, said this on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked if Hastert should resign: “That’s what this investigation is going to tell us. … We need to find out who knew what.”

Hastert maintains that he did not learn of Foley’s behavior until news of sexually explicit e-mails with a page forced Foley to resign on Sept. 29.

A new Newsweek poll has found that 52 percent of Americans surveyed believe the speaker knew of the problem and attempted to cover it up. A Time magazine poll earlier in the week found that two-thirds of those who know of the scandal suspect a cover-up. Both found 80 percent of Americans aware of the scandal – though 65 percent of those surveyed by Newsweek said it won’t make much difference in their votes.

LaHood, voicing confidence in Hastert and pointing to other ethical problems that Hastert has confronted as leader of the House – including that of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay – maintains that Hastert would have acted earlier if he had known of Foley’s overly friendly overtures to pages.

“Hastert has the ability to take on these big ethical challenges that our party has faced. … I think he has done what he should have done – maybe a few days too late,” said LaHood, noting Hastert’s public “the buck-stops-here” acceptance of full responsibility for the crisis on Thursday. “If Speaker Hastert had known about this … he would have called Foley in, given him what we call a Dutch Uncle talk, and monitored the situation.”

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is attempting to shift the focus of the Foley scandal from the behavior of one disgraced congressman to the failure of House Republicans to act more aggressively on a problem they should have been attuned to months ago when the chairman of the Page Board was first alerted to overly friendly communications between Foley and a page.

“When (Foley) wanted to retire, they asked him to run for re-election in 2006, even knowing there was something clearly amiss here,” Emanuel said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” If a high school principal had not disciplined a teacher acting improperly with a student, he said, the community would demand the principal’s ouster.

The scandal has added a volatile new issue to the campaign for control of Congress, a contest framed during what became a face-to-face debate on Sunday in the appearances of Emanuel and Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., on “This Week.”

“When you guys came to power in 1994, you said you were going to change Washington – Washington changed you,” Emanuel told Putnam. “You promised to clean up this swamp, and you have created a deeper set of swamps. … In this election … Americans do not want to stay the course you set for this country. They want a change.”

“That change would mean a Speaker Pelosi,” replied Putnam, alluding to Nancy Pelosi, Democratic House leader from California. “The change would be a Chairman Barney Frank in charge of the Banking Committee who has had his own scandals in the past,” he said, and would seat a Judiciary Committee chairman initiating impeachment proceedings against the president.

Asked how the Foley scandal might affect Democrat hopes for a 15-seat gain and takeover of the House, Putnam said: “Not enough to take the majority.” Emanuel, declining to make predictions on the outcome, said: “This is going to be an election about changing the direction.”

Four weeks before Election Day, the scandal is playing a new role in Reynolds’ campaign – he canceled his scheduled debate with Emanuel on “This Week,” with Putnam standing in for him. A new poll conducted for the Buffalo News by Zogby International shows Reynolds trailing his Democratic challenger, Jack Davis, 48 to 33 percent.

Reynolds has maintained he told Hastert about hearing of a problem involving Foley months before, a conversation that Hastert doesn’t recall.

Majority Watch, a Democratic-backed independent campaign committee, is airing radio ads in Reynolds’ home district:

“Another scandal in Washington, and our congressman, Tom Reynolds, is right in the middle,” the ad’s narrator states. “Reynolds knew of the problem months ago, but he failed to act aggressively to protect the kids. … Reynolds not only failed to act – he actually urged the Florida congressman to run for office again, possibly putting more kids at risk.”

Reynolds, responding with a TV ad, faces the camera with a somber statement which in part attempts to shift responsibility for the saga: “I never saw a single e-mail, not one,” he states in his ad. “I trusted that others had investigated. Looking back … more should have been done. … For that, I’m sorry.”

On the Sunday news shows, LaHood and Davis agreed that – knowing what they know now about early warnings of Foley’s behavior – Reynolds should not have encouraged Foley to seek re-election this year.

“Probably not,” said LaHood, adding that hindsight vision is “20-20.”

“Knowing what we know now, we wouldn’t have urged him to run for re-election,” Davis agreed. “In retrospect, as we look back at this point, that decision wasn’t a good decision.”

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