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Tim Mahoney, Charlie Rangel, Ted Stevens, Don Young (AP)

Morality plays

Campaign 2008 | What happened to all the scandal-ridden congressmen up for re-election?

WASHINGTON-Several fellows with less-than-sterling reputations in matters of ethics faced re-election in the U.S. House and Senate on Tuesday. You had your sex scandals, your bribery scandals, and your tax-evasion scandals. One senator has been convicted; the others are under various stages of investigation.

Recent scandal bearers Eliot Spitzer and Mark Foley did not survive in politics, but scandals don't always translate into lost elections. In fact, some scandal-laden politicians have been re-elected and maintain high profiles in Congress. Consider Rep. Barney Frank, who was one of the architects of the passage of the economic rescue package. His personal assistant (and male escort) Steve Gobie ran a prostitution ring out of Frank's apartment in 1990. Congress reprimanded Frank for his relationship to a male prostitute, but the Massachusetts Democrat is respected among his peers and enjoys a prominent position in the House.

Several incumbents seeking re-election this year had some form of ethics scandal overshadowing their campaigns.

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Sex scandal-embattled Tim Mahoney, the Democratic congressman from Florida who replaced sex scandal-embattled Republican Mark Foley, lost his re-election bid to GOP candidate Tom Rooney. Mahoney's extramarital affair with a campaign staffer came to light in October, and soon another liaison surfaced. He denied any wrongdoing, but a federal investigation is underway to determine whether he illegally secured federal money on behalf of one of his mistresses.

Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., who is also under investigation, didn't just squeak by in his re-election bid-he won 87 percent of the vote. Aside from allegedly violating congressional ethics rules in several instances, he is also accused of tax evasion on a property he owns in the Dominican Republic. Rangel is the chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., has been under investigation for corruption, but the case isn't moving forward. Among other things, he is accused of a corrupt relationship with a Washington lobbying firm. He was re-elected to a 16th term.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, was convicted on seven counts of corruption, but he currently leads in his race against Democrat Mark Begich, and it may be another several days before all absentee ballots are counted for a credible result. At the polls many Alaskans discounted Stevens' conviction in part because "outsiders" convicted him-a jury from the Lower 48. Stevens is primarily seen as a man who has worked hard for Alaska before it was a state and has been in the Senate for 40 years.

One of Stevens' Alaskan Republican counterparts, Rep. Don Young, is also under ethics investigation for his relationship with the former chief of oil services company VECO Bill Allen, but investigators have not filed any formal charges. Young won re-election.

With 16 indictments on his résumé, Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., won a Democratic primary and is expected to win his seat in elections in December. The contest was delayed because Hurricane Gustav postponed primaries. He has been charged with racketeering, soliciting bribes, and money laundering in a long-running bribery investigation into business deals he tried to broker in Africa.

Overall in the House, it was the first time in 75 years that Democrats won major gains in back-to-back elections. They picked up 30 seats in the 2006 backlash against several Republican scandals.

This year, their wins changed the political geography, regionally. Ousting 22-year veteran Republican Chris Shays in Connecticut gave Democrats every House seat in New England. Their victory in an open seat on New York's Staten Island gave them control of all of New York City's delegation in Washington for the first time in 35 years.

The news wasn't all good for Democrats. They lost three first-termers in the South, as well as Kansas Rep. Nancy Boyda, whose Topeka-based seat went to Lynn Jenkins, the GOP's state treasurer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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