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Will Abramoff Cost Dems a Chance at the House?

Karlyn Bowman notes in Roll Call that outside the Washington Beltway real life voters in the rest of the country are tuning out the Abramoff scandal:

So how is the lobbying scandal that’s obsessing the nation’s capital playing in Peoria? It’s barely on the radar screen.

In early January, the Pew Research Center updated its news interest index. Washington, D.C., stories weren’t generating as much interest as other stories were. Forty-seven percent said they were following very closely news stories about the deaths of miners in West Virginia, and 40 percent said so about news from Iraq.

But among Washington-based news stories, the highest attention being paid was the 32 percent who were following the wiretaps authorized by President Bush. Just 18 percent were following stories about former lobbyist Jack Abramoff bribing Members of Congress, and 14 percent said they were tracking the Judge Samuel Alito Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Digging further on the Congressional ethics scandal, 81 percent of respondents to the poll said recent reports of lobbyists bribing Members were examples of common behavior in Congress. Just 11 percent said they were isolated incidents. Perhaps the belief that this kind of behavior is common may explain why 34 percent in the news interest index question said they weren’t following the stories about Abramoff at all.

I realize that the nature of the Abramoff investigation will produce a drip, drip, drip of scandal news throughout the rest of the year that on its surface one would think would inure to the benefit of the Democrats. However, unless the temperature is significantly raised in terms of high profile congressman getting indicted or something tantalizing that catches the attention span of Joe and Jane Q. Public, I suspect that this scandal will not pack the wallop the Democrats are hoping for.

Individual members caught in the crossfire will likely get wiped out, but the Democrats’ hope that this investigation leads to an overall voter revolt at the “culture of corruption” is probably just that….. hope. Ironically, by placing so much hope in the damage Abramoff might bring, Democrats could be blowing what otherwise is a fertile opportunity to pick up enough seats to recapture the House.

But in this computer-tuned gerrymandered environment, with very few open races, the 15-seat pick up Democrats need is only really possible if they take the bull by the horns and actually propose something, ala the GOP’s 1994 "Contract With  America.” Abramoff might end up being the narcotic that lulls them into a false sense of confidence and pulls them back from making the type of aggressive move that would put them in the position for a big election day.  As of today, we’re looking at a status quo election where the Dems pick up 5-7 House seats and 2-3 Senate seats  - and Republicans get back to the business of running the country in January 2007.