WASHINGTON — Rep. Bob Ney has done the Republican Party a big favor. The embattled House member from Ohio's 18th Congressional District announced Monday that he will not seek reelection, a move that gives the GOP a fighting chance to hold on to his seat.
Nationally, Republicans face the strongest Democratic challenge for control of Congress since they took over in 1994, and every race is crucial.
Congressman Ney has been implicated in the influence-peddling scandal surrounding former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and is under investigation by federal prosecutors. Until Monday, Ney had vowed to fight for reelection, even if indicted. In May he won his primary race with 68 percent of the vote, but early Monday Ney's campaign posted a statement on the Web announcing his withdrawal.
"Ultimately this decision came down to my family," Ney stated. "I must think of them first, and I can no longer put them through this ordeal."
Under Ohio election law, the party faced an Aug. 23 deadline to put a replacement candidate on the ballot. According to the Associated Press, state Sen. Joy Padgett has agreed to take Ney's place on the ballot. Senator Padgett told the AP that both Ney and House majority leader John Boehner(R) of Ohio asked her to run.
"Joy Padgett will be a very strong candidate," says Herb Asher, a political scientist at Ohio State University. "The Democrats will still try to make an issue of musical chairs, but it certainly is good news for the Republicans."
By dropping out before the deadline, Ney has avoided the situation faced by Republicans in Texas seeking to hold on to former Rep. Tom DeLay's seat. Mr. DeLay, another embattled Republican with legal troubles, resigned from Congress after winning his primary and has lost attempts in court to remove his name from the ballot. He is now appealing to the US Supreme Court, but in the meantime, former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) is running for the seat unopposed.
Ms. Padgett is well known in the district and will run against a Democrat, attorney Zack Space, who was not the first choice of his party's congressional campaign committee but who won the primary. Ohio's 18th Congressional District voted an average of 6 percentage points more Republican than the nation as a whole in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Still, the Republican-controlled state government was roiled last year by a scandal involving the sale of old coins and the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, and Democrats remain hopeful that the toxic political environment there will work to their candidates' advantage.
Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political analyst, says the state GOP is in a "shambles," and while getting Ney off the ballot improves Republicans' prospects, the race will be tough. "You have a Republican candidate who will be running a general-election campaign in less than three months, so there are still a lot of challenges," he says. "But Ney was the proverbial albatross around the party's neck, and getting rid of that has to be a plus."
Meanwhile, Ney's legal woes appear to be deepening. Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, reported Monday that the Justice Department is reviewing statements Ney made two years ago to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which could lead to a charge of lying to Congress.