The controversy engulfing the Republican Party over the resignation of Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., has grown far and fast, and even the party's senior strategists cannot say with confidence how much damage the party has already sustained or when it will end.
With no relevant polling data to rely on in this quickly moving story -- and with legislators out of touch and scattered across the country with Congress in recess -- it is difficult for Republicans to say just how much the questions about Foley's electronic communications with Capitol Hill pages and how the party's House leaders handled the matter could hurt their chances in the midterm elections.
Democrats continue to speak out on the matter, with a few of their candidates for House seats holding press conferences and running advertisements that play off the Foley controversy. Democrats have raised questions, specifically about Republicans who have received campaign funding from Foley and about whether Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and other leaders did enough to investigate Foley's activities after they were informed of e-mails he had sent to one former page from Louisiana.
A handful of conservative voices -- including the editorial page of the Washington Times -- has called for Hastert to step down. His aides say that Hastert will remain in office, but swirling questions about what he and other leaders knew and when they knew it continue to fuel suspicions and concern, even among the leaders themselves. Hastert told radio host Rush Limbaugh Tuesday that he planned to stay in office, and he defended the way he and others had handled the situation.
Beyond the fate of the leadership, Republican are worried, on a broader level, about the midterm elections and keeping control of the House and the Senate. Before the Foley scandal broke, most analysts and strategists for both parties believed that the outcome was very much in doubt, with outside events and Election Day get-out-the-vote efforts determining the outcome.
Now, one outside event, triggered by the resignation of a Republican House member whose seat was considered completely safe, threatens to tilt the election heavily in the Democrats' favor. The Republicans' leader in the House, John Boehner of Ohio, suggested Monday that Foley's seat would now be lost, giving Democrats one of the 15 seats required to take back control of the House.
Forty-eight hours ago, Republicans said they would give their leaders -- primarily Hastert -- 48 hours to control the story and limit the political damage. With concern that key voting groups, including suburban women, religious conservatives and older voters are still not satisfied with how the Foley matter was handled, Republicans remain worried that this is a vast moving story that could undo all their careful planning over the past few months to hold on to their majorities for the last two years of the Bush administration.