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updated 10/20/2006 3:27:41 PM ET 2006-10-20T19:27:41

So far, October has brought a steady drip of bad news for Republicans, and not-exactly-good, but definitely-not-bad news for Democrats.

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A hedge is required for that last statement, since it's hard to argue that a 52-year-old congressman sending lascivious messages to a 16-year-old congressional page is good news for anyone. But the Mark Foley scandal has presented an opportunity for Democrats, who have seen a fistful of air-tight races open up. As expected, one of the most high-profile of those races is the contest to replace Foley, the six-term Florida Republican who resigned in late September.

Suddenly, long-shot Democratic challenger Tim Mahoney , a wealthy businessman and political novice, got a free ride to the top of the polls. Florida Republicans scrambled to find a replacement and chose Joe Negron , a state representative also not particularly well known in the district.

Mahoney made the national news cycle first, since the sudden competitiveness of the seat led Democratic heavyweights like Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley Clark to stump for him. Mahoney was also the first candidate on the air: The spot "Graham Man" was cut before the scandal broke but aired immediately after it.

"Tim is a common-sense businessman who believes in faith, family and personal responsibility. Tim Mahoney will help end the fraud, waste and corruption in Washington," says former Florida governor, senator and onetime White House hopeful Bob Graham, reading from a script that likely had Mahoney's campaign thanking the stars.

Mahoney's team has apparently decided that the word "corruption," rather than the word "Foley," will be the theme of his campaign. His first truly post-Foley spot  doesn't even mention the disgraced congressman.

"Congress is a mess," an announcer barks, over images of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. All three men have been embroiled in ethics scandals. Ney recently pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and making false statements; DeLay is awaiting trial.

Negron is also up on the air, with a spot called "Bush" that stars popular Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R). Bush opens the ad by mentioning the F-word -- a clear sign state Republicans have decided it's best to tackle the issue directly than to be perceived as ducking the scandal.

"We're all angry and upset by what's happened with Mark Foley," Bush says, "but maintaining control of Congress is important because it's a dangerous world."

2006 key racesGOP hopes were dealt a possibly lethal blow this week when a judge ruled that election officials could not post signs saying that a vote for Foley -- his name remains on the ballot -- would actually go to Negron. Even Negron's son said he would have to "hold [his] nose" while casting his ballot.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has decided to pour $2 million into Negron's coffers to help him get the word out. "Republicans are in it to win, and will likely spend whatever it takes to win," said a GOP strategist involved in Negron's campaign.

A new poll shows Mahoney ahead by 7 points -- quite a turnaround for Fla.-16 but still manageable for the beleaguered GOP.

CAMPAIGN CHECK:Steele Keeps Throwing Them Under The Bus
Maryland Senate hopeful Michael Steele really can't get enough distance from his fellow Republicans.

The candidate who likened the "R" in his party affiliation to a "scarlet letter" has a new spot indirectly addressing the Foley scandal. After telling viewers he has two teenage sons, Steele says sternly that any lawmakers caught "protecting each other instead of protecting children" should be shown "the door." Steele then leans into the camera: "And I don't care which party they're in."

Ouch. Steele really might mean business, Republicans: Looks like former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson's got his back.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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