Larry Kudlow

The first wave of polls following the Mark Foley scandal is devastating to the Republican outlook for the congressional elections on November 7. Devastating.

The Foley scandal -- and the corresponding bungling of the works by House Speaker Denny Hastert -- is not the biggest issue in the midterm races. But at the margin it is having a very negative impact. One might even call this a tipping point. Metaphorically, it highlights the ongoing GOP problems of corruption, ineptness, mismanagement, and poor judgment.

Whether it’s Gallup, ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, or CNN/USA Today, the polls are all telling the same story: The Republicans are on course to lose the House while the GOP Senate is hanging by a thread.

According to Gallup, government corruption has climbed to the upper ranks of key voter issues, joining Iraq and terrorism. This is exactly where the GOP doesn’t want it to be. Undoubtedly, these new numbers capture a loss of Republican support among security moms and what we can call conservative values voters.

A full 48 percent of likely voters rate corruption among the big-three issues of the day, while the GOP specifically is losing by 20 points on corruption, 17 points on Iraq and, get this, 5 points on terrorism. This last one is tough to swallow, but the damage has been done.

Among likely voters, Gallup shows the Democrats with a 23-point lead, 59-36, for the generic House ballot. Only a month ago, this indicator was locked at 48-48. In addition, respondents say Speaker Hastert should resign, by a 43 to 36 percent margin.

If I were Denny Hastert I would try to be as invisible as possible right about now. Instead, Hastert is holding news conferences in front of graveyard tombstones. Message to Mr. Hastert: The polls are calling for your head. The more you try to explain your way out of the Foley mess the more you crowd out important Republican messages on low-tax economic growth, falling gas prices, the record Dow stock market, and a strong national-security stance against terrorism. These are the messages the GOP must emphasize if it is to stay competitive in the final sprint to the November 7 elections.

Hastert should have stepped aside as speaker more than a week ago, telling voters that he will roll up his sleeves and get to the bottom of the Foley sex scandal in the months ahead. Instead he is making the political problem worse. Every time he appears in public he not only reminds voters of GOP corruption, but of the fact he has done nothing about it.

Larry Kudlow

Lawrence Kudlow is host of CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report,” which airs nightly from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.