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August 8, 2006
Ney Says Nay

Embattled Ohio Republican Bob Ney has withdrawn from his re-election bid even after easily winning the primary nomination. His ties to Jack Abramoff effectively torpedoed his chances, and with two weeks to go before a filing deadline would have closed off any chance to replace him on the ballot, Ney decided to retire instead:

Representative Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican entangled in the corruption scandal centered on the former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, announced Monday that he would abandon his bid for re-election.

The Justice Department has signaled for months that criminal charges against Mr. Ney, and possibly other Republican members of Congress and aides who were close to Mr. Abramoff, were only a matter of time.

“Ultimately this decision came down to my family,” Mr. Ney said in a statement announcing his decision not to seek a seventh term. “I must think of them first, and I can no longer put them through this ordeal.”

The Justice Department’s investigation of Mr. Abramoff’s lobbying operation has left Republicans on the defensive in a year in which the control of the House could come down to a relative handful of races. In withdrawing two weeks before the deadline for replacing him on the ballot, Mr. Ney gave his party a better shot at hanging on to his seat, political strategists said.

One has to wonder what took Ney so long. While he retains the legal presumption of innocence, his legislative record provided enough suspicion to forfeit a political assumption of innocence. Even more, his close association with the disgraced lobbyist -- whom Ney accuses of "duping" him -- guaranteed a tough race in what should have been an easy hold for the GOP. The scandal outweighed the rather paltry amount he received from Indian gaming interests in his last race (less than $3500).

Will Ney's withdrawal help Republicans hold the seat? The district has traditionally been a GOP stronghold. Ney won the district in 2004 by a 2-1 margin over his challenger Brian Thomas, a machine operator trying to win his first political office. Ney probably still would have won the seat against Zack Space, but as the New York Times reports, it had no longer been a sure thing. The GOP wanted Ney to retire before the primary, but he had consistently refused to surrender his seat.

Something obviously changed this week. Just a few days ago, he had assured his supporters that he would continue to fight for his re-election, but this weekend he reached out to Joy Padgett, a Republican state senator, to see if she would run in his place. The looming deadlne for ballot changes must have eroded his determination -- or perhaps the national party redoubled its efforts to avoid the problem they had in Texas with Tom DeLay's withdrawal after his ballot deadline had already passed.

It looks like the right move, not only politically but ethically as well. Those politicians who have operated on Abramoff's behalf should retire from public life if they took part in the crimes to which he confessed. Ney still denies any wrongdoing, but the circumstances strongly suggest behavior that was inappropriate at best. Regardless of whether the Justice Department can make the charges stick, Ney's withdrawal -- and the GOP push for it -- takes another piece of the Abramoff scandal out of the national midterm effort.

In all likelihood, without Ney as a target, Space will have a difficult time gaining traction in this normally safe Republican district. If Padgett does run, she will have a known political track record among Ney's constituents and will have a broader base than Space, who holds a municipal office and was relatively unknown in the district. The Republican leadership ran a smart intervention in OH-18.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 8, 2006 5:14 AM

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