The Biggest Winner in the Foley Scandal

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Florida Democratic U.S. congressional candidate Tim Mahoney speaks to the media about the resignation of U.S. Rep. Mark Foley September 29, 2006, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

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That's one reason why conservative Democrat and former Florida Senator Bob Graham had endorsed Mahoney. Still, it wasn't until Foley exited that the Democratic national election committee declared the 16th a "blue" district worth fighting for. Democratic leaders like Massachusetts Senator John Kerry swooped in over the weekend to promote Mahoney. And though his campaign won't say yet how much national money has poured into Mahoney's coffers since last Friday, a campaign spokeswoman says it's "more than sufficient" to keep Mahoney on the TV-ad offensive throughout October.

Negron's campaign, meanwhile, will have to spend less time going after Mahoney and considerably more effort educating the district's voters about the strange electoral situation ahead. Palm Beach County G.O.P. Chairman Sid Dinerstein says the party is gearing up a major campaign of direct mail and polling place signs, and he believes he can still count on the party's base. "As a party we're still motivated," Dinerstein insists, but admitted that the "anti-Foley backlash" will be a large obstacle. Negron says his most important task will be to remind G.O.P. voters "to vote Republican" and not anti-Foley. "I think voters are pretty smart and pretty sophisticated, and I think they can figure [this situation] out."

As a result, both Negron and Mahoney say they hope to run as normal a race as possible — which, these days, may well mean the same mudslinging and attack ads that will characterize most other House contests. Mahoney had already taken Foley to court for defamation over an ad that accused Mahoney of questionable business practices; and Mahoney had countered by calling on Foley to "disclose how he became a millionaire as an elected official." Negron this week pounced on last weekend's visits from star Dems to insist Mahoney is just a liberal in disguise. "The voters of District 16," he said, "don't want a Congressman who's been hanging out with John Kerry." That may be true. But the question is whether voters will want to stay even further away from the alternative, a party that is too closely tied to Mark Foley.

with reporting by Barbara Liston/Orlando and Michael Peltier/Tallahassee

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