Sex scandals: partisan poison at the polls?

Some unsolicited, un-paid for, and probably unwelcome advice to the Democrats: if it is true – again, if, if, if, if, if, if – that Dale Kildee is in fact guilty of the sexual molestation charges made against him, it will be in the Democratic party’s best interests to force Kildee to resign now.  Consider the following Representatives:

  • Mark Foley (R, FL-16).  Resigned due to sex scandal. Seat kept vacant until general election.  Result: seat flipped.
  • Eric Massa (D, NY-29).  Resigned due to sex scandal.  Seat kept vacant until general election.  Result: seat flipped.
  • Mark Souder (R, IN-03).  Resigned due to sex scandal. Seat kept vacant until general election.  Result: seat retained.
  • Christopher Lee (R, NY-26). Resigned due to sex scandal. Special election held.  Result: seat flipped.
  • Anthony Weiner (D, NY-09). Resigned due to sex scandal. Special election held.  Result: seat flipped.
  • David Wu (D, OR-01). Resigned due to sex scandal. Special election to be held. Seat considered in jeopardy.

Do you see the theme, here?  Of the last six Representatives who resigned because of a sex scandal, four saw their seats change party at the next opportunity and one will very possibly see that happen next year. Now let’s look at a list of Representatives from the last decade that didn’t resign*:

  • Gary Condit (D, CA-18). Affair with staffer (who later turned up murdered). Was defeated in primary.
  • Ed Schrock (R, VA-02). Solicitation of male prostitute, did not run for re-election. Seat retained.
  • Don Sherwood (R, PA-10). Affair/abuse allegations, but ran for re-election. Seat flipped.
  • Tim Mahoney (D, FL-16). Admitted to affairs and putting mistress on payroll, but ran for re-election. Seat flipped.
  • Vito Fossella (R, NY-13). Didn’t run for re-election in 2008 after it came out that he had had an affair. Seat flipped.

So, of those five: three saw their seats flipped to the opposite party, one saw the seat kept for his party, and the last got his seat taken away from him in a primary, thus preserving it for his party.

This is all admittedly a small sample size, but it’s still one heck of a trend: House members who get caught in sex scandals tend to see their seats flip at the next opportunity.  But note this: of the three seats that flipped prior to the 2010 general election, PA-10 and NY-13 flipped yet again at the next election after that (so did FL-16, but its back-to-back sexual scandals skews the results).  So the seats are not necessarily permanently lost… but they are likely to be lost, and that’s just the way that it is, honestly.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

PS: No, I don’t really know why this doesn’t seem to apply to Senators or Governors.

*This list is admittedly a bit more likely to be incomplete: while it’s easy enough to trace who resigned, the list of Congressmen who were credibly accused of sexual shenanigans but stayed in office anyway is a little  harder to compile.


  • Kimberly Marvel says:

    Now that would be the question to find an answer to… many had bogus charges against them and retained or lost their seats anyway?

  • Jeff says:

    Keep in mind that this district is basically Bay City and Flint. Mr. Moore’s hometown and one tough nut to crack for a Republican, sex scandal or no. I would count us very lucky to win that one and then put a low probability on retention after that.

  • Bill James says:

    I wonder if the Senators retain their seats because they are in office long enough to overcome the charges somehow. But that wouldn’t work for a Governor, would it? Maybe the senators seem so distant and apart that they aren’t held to the same standards as ordinary mortal? Or they stay in power so long to start (six years vs 2 or 4, and most of that time in DC) that they have the connections– or know the dirty laundry well enough– to keep their own party members from ganging up on them?

  • Brian Swisher says:

    OR-01 in jeopardy? Really? Color me skeptical on that one…I’d be delighted if the seat flipped, but, dude – Multnomah County…

    • Moe_Lane says:

      Brian: No, really. I’m not forecasting a pickup yet, but ask me again this time next month. Voters seem inclined to punish the party if they can’t punish the politician.

      Mind you, a Republican that gets OR-01 will be hard-pressed to keep it.

  • Jeff says:

    Your answer to the Representatives vs. Senators question comes via today’s XKCD. A senator has a net worth around 2.5 times a repersentative. Things just don’t hit you as hard when there’s money to smooth things over.

    Off topic, by the way, I had to force myself to stop staring at today’s XKCD of my afternoon’s productivity would be lost.

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