Hank Sheinkopf can’t believe his luck or, more precisely, the bad luck of his opponent. The question is what to do with it. The veteran Democratic strategist had been hired by Jack Davis, a successful silicon-parts manufacturer in western New York, to try to unseat Representative Thomas Reynolds, the state’s most powerful Republican congressman. Things were looking like a repeat of two years ago, when Davis spent $1.2 million of his own money only to lose with 44 percent of the vote. It could’ve been worse this time. Then, suddenly, Mark Foley’s unseemly attachment to teenage pages was revealed and questions were raised about what Reynolds knew and why he hadn’t seemed to do anything about it. Now there’s a race on in Greater Buffalo.
Last week, Sheinkopf was on Madison Avenue, shouting into his cell phone to his clients upstate about the new anti-Reynolds commercials he’s producing. “We gotta do what we gotta do on this issue without being tawdry, or ridiculous, or violent,” he explains. “For once, this isn’t a piece of negative-ad campaigning, it’s not made up, this is the truth. And the truth is what’s going to kill him.” Months after Reynolds claims he learned about Foley’s leering e-mails, he accepted a $100,000 gift from Foley on behalf of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which he heads. Gotcha, thinks Sheinkopf. “Here’s a case where the best consultants, the most amount of money, a majority in the House, and a speed-of-lightning career can’t help you. Ultimately, this is about what [Reynolds] knew and when he knew it and what he did about it. The problem for Tom Reynolds is that we knew that he knew, and we knew when he knew it, and we know what he did about it. Nothing.” Davis’s campaign will roll out an ad this week that will address the scandal.
Meanwhile, the Green Party is also accusing Republicans in Reynolds’s district of getting a phony candidate on the ballot, apparently in the hopes of diluting Davis’s support. Late last month, a self-proclaimed Green Party candidate named Christine Murphy was polling as high as 8 percent. The problem was, the upstate Greens had never heard of Murphy. After some digging, they learned that the people handing around her petitions were Young Republicans. The Greens challenged her petitions with election officials, who moved to throw her off the ballot. “This just shows the morality level you’re dealing with,” says Eric Jones, a Green state rep. (A spokesman for Reynolds did not return calls.)
Polls show a pick-’em race, within the margin of error. “They need to hose this thing down,” says Ed Rollins, the veteran Republican strategist, who advises Reynolds to not panic. “I wouldn’t do anything differently than I was going to do.” Sheinkopf doesn’t see that working. “The only question is, what happens if this story evaporates? The only thing that’s evaporating here are the glaciers in the North Pole.”