ORLANDO, Fla. – The candidate chosen to replace former Rep. Mark Foley on the November ballot faces the awkward task of persuading voters to elect him by casting a vote for the disgraced former congressman.
Foley had held his seat in Florida's largely Republican 16th district for the past dozen years and was seeking re-election until his sudden resignation over lurid online communications with teenage congressional pages.
Florida's Republican Party leaders selected state Rep. Joe Negron on Monday to replace Foley as their candidate in the Nov. 7 general election, but under state law, Foley's name cannot be removed from the ballot even though he has withdrawn.
Negron will receive votes cast for Foley.
"Obviously I'd rather have my name on the ballot, but Mark Foley, that name is a placeholder — that's it," he said. "He's withdrawn — not in Congress, not a congressman any more."
One prominent Florida Republican said he doubts that any GOP candidate can capture the seat with Foley's name on the ballot.
"The only way you win is they (voters) have got to vote for Mark Foley. That doesn't appear to me to be very attractive," said Tom Slade, former state Republican Party chairman.
But state party spokesman Jeff Sadosky said the seat is too important to surrender.
"It's not going to be about yesterday's news, no matter how tragic and horrifying," he said.
Negron, an attorney who turns 45 next week, said he will focus on introducing himself and his views to voters.
During his six years in the Florida Legislature, he ascended quickly to influential committee posts and was the House budget chairman the past two sessions.
He is also known for his tough stand on crime. He had hoped to become state attorney general, but dropped his bid for the party's nomination earlier this year after deciding he couldn't defeat former congressman Bill McCollum.
Standing beside his son and daughter at a news conference, Negron choked up while talking about the Foley scandal.
"I've had pages work in my office for years, I've seen pages go to Washington, I've seen the incredible opportunity that is ..." he said, his voice trailing off. He then put his hand over his face and struggled to continue. "It was very disturbing because I work with these young people."
Tim Mahoney, the Democratic candidate for the seat, said earlier Monday he had no plans to change his campaign in light of Foley's resignation.
"I've done a good job talking about Tim Mahoney," he said. "When people meet me and people know me, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, they get on board. They know that when I'm in Washington, D.C., I'll be no-nonsense and it's all going to be about results."
Foley resigned Friday after reports surfaced that he sent sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages to male teenage pages. He went into seclusion and released a statement that he was seeking treatment.
"I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems," he said.
Foley's attorney, David Roth, said that his client checked into a treatment center Sunday night and would remain for at least 30 days. He declined to identify the facility.
Roth said Foley was "emotionally devastated" and felt he had let down his constituents, his party and his family. He said his client has never had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor.
The race Foley abandoned is suddenly receiving national attention as Democrats need to win a net of 15 Republican seats to regain power in the House.
The FBI is investigating the Foley e-mails, as is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Ironically, Foley, who is 52 and single, could be found to have violated a law that he helped write as co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus.