The Rep. Mark Foley fallout is sending shockwaves through Florida politics. Rep. Clay Shaw, who's fighting to keep his seat in one of the tightest and costliest re-election campaigns in the country, is now at risk because of his former colleague's online behavior.
The two have been closely tied in politics since Foley entered the House during the 1994 Republican Revolution. Socially conservative Republicans with high ratings from the American Conservative Union, Foley and Shaw represented neighboring districts that share swaths of Florida's eastern Gold Coast. When Shaw faced his strongest challenge to date, in 2000, Foley's camp donated $1,000 to Shaw. And after Shaw's narrow victory, Republicans redistricted portions of Foley's safely Republican 16th District into Shaw's 22nd District, which allowed Shaw to enjoy smooth victories in 2002 and 2004.
Before Foley's resignation last week, they both sat on the House Ways and Means Committee; they also own homes in Washington just a few doors apart. Former Florida Rep. Porter Goss also owned a nearby home, earning the street the nickname "Florida Row." When Shaw battled lung cancer in 2003, Foley told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper that Shaw was "a dear friend of mine" and a "close colleague." But the two have had their disagreements as well. Amid the reapportionment of Florida's districts — necessitated, in part, by Shaw's own turf becoming increasingly Democratic — the two entered a territorial spat that resulted in Foley's threatening to run against Shaw if necessary. They eventually divided heavily Republican Palm Beach County. Foley was willing to compromise because "Florida benefits from [Shaw's] seniority," he said. "To make things a little better for him, I was willing to sacrifice some of my personal agenda." And they seem to have smoothed out their differences: Foley's leadership political action committee gave another $1,000 to Shaw in March for his re-election campaign.
After last week's revelations, Shaw distanced himself from Foley. Gail Gitcho, a spokesperson for Shaw, said, "They're neighboring congressmen; that's it." Shaw's office quickly released a statement condemning Foley and supporting a full investigation.
Nevertheless, Democrats are betting that the Foley scandal will depress Republican turnout in a state that has become a bitter battleground for the two parties.
"This story has a net negative effect on Republicans running for office right now," says Brian Smoot, who is steering the campaign of Shaw's challenger, state Sen. Ron Klein. Smoot won't say whether he thinks Klein will see a boost because of Foley, but he does attempt to tie Shaw to Republican leaders, some of whom received early indications that Foley's behavior was questionable.
"It seems to me it was a problem that House leadership perpetuated," Smoot says. "[Shaw] likes to tout that he is [House leadership]" — a reference to Shaw's frequent suggestion that he is likely to ascend to chair of the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans retain the majority. Shaw has not been implicated in any of the media accounts as having any prior knowledge of Foley's E-mails to congressional pages. Gitcho says Shaw learned of the scandal "when the story broke, like everybody else."