updated 10/3/2006 10:10:47 AM ET 2006-10-03T14:10:47

Republicans are scrambling to contain the damage of two separate political headaches that share a common theme - accusations that the GOP is hiding the truth.

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At the White House, President Bush's team is rebutting a new book that suggests he misled the country about the severity of the violence in Iraq. On Capitol Hill, House Republican leaders are facing questions of what - and when - they knew about former GOP Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate electronic communications with teenage males who had worked as pages.

"These two events have a chance to be a cloud over the entire Election Day," said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist, who lamented the terrible timing for Republicans with just five weeks before the Nov. 7 election.

Perfect storm?
Added Tony Fabrizio, another GOP consultant: "It's almost like the perfect storm forming against us."

Republicans already were operating in an unfriendly political environment when last week, in a one-two punch, excerpts of Bob Woodward's new book, "State of Denial," surfaced and Foley, a six-term Florida congressman, abruptly resigned after media reports that he sent sexually suggestive messages to teenage boys. The tawdry turn of events set off finger-pointing among House Republicans.

Before all that, polls showed widespread disapproval of the GOP-run Congress and the public favoring Democrats to win control of the House and Senate. At the same time, Bush's support remains low - as does the popularity of the Iraq war.

Campaign plans thrown askew
Control of Congress hangs in the balance. Democrats need to gain 15 seats to take the reins of the House and six to seize power in the Senate. 2006 key races

The White House and Republicans had hoped to close the last congressional work week before the campaign homestretch highlighting the GOP's national security efforts. Congress sent the president legislation regulating the prosecution of terrorism suspects and allowing the building of fencing along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

But as that week ended and this one began, the GOP found itself knocked off message - and confronting the stark prospect that the party may not be able to recover from the double dose of woes before the election.

For days, current and former members of Bush's staff have attacked Woodward's accounts, disputed assertions and dismissed the book. White House spokesman Tony Snow likened it to "cotton candy. It kind of melts on contact." And counselor Dan Bartlett, appearing on Sunday news shows, argued that Bush has been up front with the public about the challenges in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, spent the weekend explaining his version of events, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke out on Monday.

Capitol Hill scandal
On the Foley matter, Snow punted, telling reporters: "The House has to clean up the mess, to the extent there is a mess."

In the House, Republican leaders did some explaining of their own.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., denounced sexually explicit instant messages Foley is accused of sending in 2003 to teenagers as "vile and repulsive." He denied that House leaders had access to the specific messages he referred to until the instant messages surfaced in media reports Friday.

However, Hastert's staff and some Republicans in leadership, including Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House campaign effort, for months had been aware of some type of inappropriate 2005 e-mail exchange between Foley and a Louisiana teenage boy who once worked as a page. Reynolds said he also told Hastert. The speaker says he doesn't recall the conversation but also does not dispute Reynolds' account.

Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, also has known since the spring that Foley had contacted the teen, but a spokesman said the leader didn't know details of the contact.

Now GOP leaders find themselves beating back accusations of a cover-up while Democrats seize on the scandal. Rank-and-file Republicans, meanwhile, are distancing themselves from Foley, and some are calling for accountability from leaders who were aware of his reported behavior and failed to take action.

"If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership," said Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican in a competitive re-election fight in Connecticut.

Control of Congress
In light of the scandal, at least one Republican-held House seat considered safe for Republicans now may be in jeopardy - Foley's seat in Florida. His name must remain on the ballot along with Democratic challenger Tim Mahoney even though Republicans chose a replacement GOP candidate, state Rep. Joe Negron.

However, the fallout from the Foley story also could complicate other GOP re-election bids, and several Republicans in close races have announced plans to donate to charities or return the contributions they received from Foley.

For Hastert, Boehner and others in leadership but not in close races, the ramifications could spread beyond November and into House leadership elections should Republicans hold the House.

Privately, some Republicans concede that the party now is in even more danger of losing control of the House, and a few fear that the events could impact the Senate as well.

The concern is that voters already angry with Congress and inclined to favor Democrats will view the Foley matter, coupled with the accusations in the Woodward book, as an indictment against the GOP in general and buy into the Democratic argument that change is needed.

"Salacious issues like this are ready-made for the media," Rick Davis, a Republican strategist, said as the Foley scandal unfolded. "It's going to be hard to talk through this noise."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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