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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Speaker Foley Fights To Avoid Major Loss

SPOKANE, Washington -- In the final week of his toughest re-election campaign, House Speaker Thomas Foley, Democrat of Washington, has confronted nonstop negative ads from interest groups, personal accusations on radio talk shows and his opponent's efforts to blame him for 30 years of government failures.

Then Ross Perot showed up.

"Forget every other congressional district," the 1992 independent presidential candidate told 300 workers at a machine factory Friday. "If you drive a hammer home here, you're going to turn that battleship around like a small motor boat."

A Foley loss would make him the first speaker defeated since 1860, demoralize his party's lawmakers and mean that both the House and Senate would have new Democratic leaders because Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell is retiring. That has made Foley's fight against Republican George Nethercutt the most watched race for the House of Representatives this year.

Perot's visit to endorse Nethercutt represented the Republican candidate's best bid to attract the small bloc of undecided voters that both campaigns agree will decide a close race Tuesday.

The speaker, third in line to succeed to the presidency, has fought his way back from a big deficit in early polls by constantly reminding constituents of the value of his political influence to eastern Washington. A believer in his powers of persuasion, Foley also has been talking about issues like education and gun control where he and Nethercutt disagree.

To Nethercutt, a lawyer from the eastern Washington city of Spokane, the only issue is Foley and the unpopular Congress for which he stands.

It was 30 years ago that Foley arrived in Congress as Lyndon Johnson was launching his Great Society programs, and Perot echoed a Nethercutt theme in blaming Foley for "a 30-year rush to big government" even though he did not become speaker until 1989. "He's a fine man who sincerely believes in big government," Perot said. "And if it had worked, I'd be here campaigning for him."

Perot collected 23 percent of the 1992 presidential vote in Foley's district, primarily from working-class Democrats in the Spokane area whom Nethercutt was trying to attract with Perot's visit.

When a conservative caller to a radio talk show advised Foley to enjoy his retirement, a rare bit of Irish anger flashed.

"It may be a bit premature. You better wait to see whether it happens or not," he snapped.

It is Nethercutt who has better played the part of winner-to-be, appearing bouyant and relaxed, while Foley has seemed irritable and tired.

The latest polls for each campaign have shown its candidate with a slight lead and the number of undecided voters dwindling to 10 percent or less. Facing that situation so late in a campaign would make any longtime incumbent nervous.

But Foley's status as leader of the House give him an advantage that other embattled incumbents would not enjoy. Nethercutt suggested that some voters who like his message of change have hesitated because the choice is "the speaker versus new person" instead of "congressman versus new person."

On local radio stations, five conservative talk-show hosts daily stoke hours of calls from listeners hostile to Foley.

Host Richard Clear on Thursday asked Foley to respond to old rumors that he is a homosexual. "That's ridiculous and that brings the campaign down to a pretty low level," Foley replied angrily. "I am not gay. I am not homosexual."