The House ethics committee has been working hard to determine if Republicans covered up ex-Rep. Mark Foley's come-ons to former male pages, but even 12-hour work days won't bring conclusions by Election Day.

The lack of a report leaves voters to sort through conflicting Republican accounts in deciding whether GOP leaders failed to protect teenagers in their care.

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Foley became overly friendly with male pages when they served as errand-runners for lawmakers and — after they left Congress — sent some of them inappropriate e-mails and lurid instant messages.

It won't be easy for voters to find answers without the ethics committee's help.

Speaker Dennis Hastert's staff could have learned of inappropriate e-mails as early as 2002 and as late as 2005, depending on whose statements voters believe. The salacious instant messages didn't surface until a month ago.

Also, two House leaders said they told Hastert about Foley's questionable e-mails last spring, but the speaker said he didn't learn of them until late September.

A four-member investigative subcommittee interviewed some two dozen witnesses in closed sessions. Witnesses were still being questioned earlier this week, leaving no time for the panel to digest hours of interviews and write a report by Election Day.

Foley, R-Fla., who is in an alcohol treatment program, resigned in late September after he was confronted with some of his lurid messages.

While the Iraq war has dominated newscasts, headlines and talk shows, recent polls indicate that many voters also consider the Foley issue important. A majority say they believe Republican leaders were involved in a cover-up.

For instance, more than half, 55 percent, in a CNN poll taken last month said the Foley scandal would be very or extremely important in their vote. And about the same number in that poll, 57 percent, said they thought Republican leaders covered up Foley's behavior.

Academic experts said the Foley scandal was never a more important issue than the Iraq war — even when it momentarily dominated the headlines as September ended. Nonetheless, they said there was an adverse effect on Republican campaigns.

"It demoralized Republicans and threw them off message," said John Pitney, Jr., a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in California.

"They wanted desperately to talk about Usama Bin Laden and had to talk about Mark Foley. It may add to the sense that Republicans aren't managing the House very well."

But Pitney predicted that most voters concerned about Foley already "made up their minds that Republicans messed up. I'm not sure a report might make much difference. The damage has been done."

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the timing of the scandal — becoming public about five weeks before the election — may have lessened the impact for Republicans.

"The hypocrisy is obvious. The family values party always is vulnerable to any kind of scandal involving sexual issues. There has been some hangover. But, as expected, a month later it wasn't going to be that dominant," Sabato said.

"It's juicy, but not that juicy."

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said the Foley matter is much worse for Republicans as part of the overall corruption issue.

Republicans have had to cope with corruption cases against Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California.

In addition, Rep. Don Sherwood, R-Pa., admitted to an extramarital affair with a woman 35 years his junior and settled a lawsuit she brought that claimed he had choked her. He has denied abuse.

More recently, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., a 10-term lawmaker, is being investigated by the FBI over allegations that he used his influence to help his daughter's lobbying firm get $1 million in contracts from foreign clients.

Other ethics probes are dogging Reps. Jerry Lewis and John Doolittle, both R-Calif. and Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.

Far fewer investigations involve Democrats. Authorities are conducting a bribery probe of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. Authorities also are investigating Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., who steered federal money to nonprofit groups that contributed to his campaigns.

Baker, the Rutgers professor, said the Democratic cases will have less of an impact on Tuesday than the large number of probes focused on Republicans — including the Foley case.

The Foley case and the other investigations, he said, "tells people there's insincerity and that family values issues are a lot of puffery on the part of Republicans. Republicans are no better in protecting family values than the Democrats."

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