Indictment or not, Ney is in until the end
Democrats hoping to unseat Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, a top target in the federal probe of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are hoping he's indicted before Election Day. But Ney tells U.S. News that he will remain in the race even if indicted. "I don't normally comment on hypotheticals," he says, "but I'm in this race till the end."
Ney's ex-Chief of Staff Neil Volz pleaded guilty last month to bribing the congressman, and Ney is described in court papers surrounding the Abramoff investigation as "Representative #1." Despite his pledge, Democrats are expecting that an indictment would push Ney off the ticket. "We wouldn't mind if the indictment came down sometime in mid-August," when Ohio law would prevent the GOP from replacing him on the ballot, says Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern. "We're looking at this pragmatically."
Even with an indictment, Ney maintains that ethics issues will not be the deciding factor in his race. "People in Washington constantly come up to me and say, 'Are you surviving?'" Ney says. "But the issue of Abramoff ... less than 10 people have even raised it to me [in the district].... my constituents are giving me the benefit of the doubt."
To help ensure that his House Republican colleagues do the same, Ney has begun sending them progress reports on his race, which include a typed update from Ney, a list of endorsements, and news clips from his home district. Ney says the reports are intended to show that he is viewed very differently in Ohio's 18th Congressional District than he is in the national news media.
"In the face of repeated attempts by some of the national media to inaccurately portray my past official actions, I continue to enjoy very strong support throughout my district," Ney writes in his most recent update, sent to Republican House colleagues last week. "I consistently visit all parts of the districtwhich is the largest geographically in Ohioand have met with countless constituents and community leaders; all of them continue to express their unwavering support for me."
The letter also seeks to enlist House Republicans in what Ney forecasts will be a tough campaign. Though he is facing Zack Space, an inexperienced Democratic challenger, who has yet to raise major funds, Ney expects liberal groups to flush hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race. "I am realistic enough to know that continuing misleading government leaks and media speculation will pose challenges to me as I keep getting the truth and the facts out to my constituents," he writes. "Meeting these challenges will take resources of time, wise counsel, and money, and I am asking for your help."
Ney spokesman Brian Walsh estimates that the congressman has sent out three such packets in recent months and that a number of House colleagues have been spurred to contribute, with more pledging financial support in the near future.
The packet sent out last week includes more than 20 articles, many from Ohio media sources. "Bob Ney is one of the most effective members of Congress," reads one, a letter to the editor featured in Athens News. "He is hardworking, efficient and compassionate. He has ... helped obtain federal dollars for road improvements and job creation."
Republican Hill sources say Ney's updates have been effective. "There is this beyond-the-beltway news analysis that goes on that many of us don't see," says Kevin Madden, a spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner, also from Ohio. "We become very focused on the chatter around the halls of Congress, but the conversations around the water coolers of New Philadelphia and Chillicothe [both in Ohio] are quite different."
Madden says the House leader will continue to view Ney's election as "between Ney and his constituents" even if he is indicted.
But Democrats say such talk is bluster, reasoning that an indictment would be a drag on Republican Reps. Deborah Pryce and Steve Chabot, both facing competitive re-election bids in Ohio. "If Ney is indicted and he doesn't step down, that makes our job easier," says the Ohio Democrats' Redfern. "We would love to keep him around."