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Scandals and Mistakes Influence US Political Campaigns

  • Meredith Buel

WASHINGTON — A hurricane that has slammed into the United States has taken attention away from the race for president - as both major political parties select their nominees over the next 10 days. But a recent storm of a different kind serves as a reminder that mistakes and scandals have often had an impact on America’s political campaigns.

Just as Republicans were preparing to introduce Mitt Romney to the nation, a little known U.S. Senate candidate sparked a controversy.

Congressman Todd Akin was asked if abortion should be allowed for a victim of rape.

“If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said.

Democrats like President Barack Obama were quick to pounce. “The views expressed were offensive; rape is rape,” Obama said.

Akin apologized, but the damage was done as the media spotlight shifted for Romney.

“The timing could not be worse. The last thing Mitt Romney wants to focus on is abortion and social issues,” said Allan J. Lichtman, a political historian at American University.

The Sea of Galilee, where the Bible says Jesus walked on water, was the location for yet another embarrassing event.

During an official trip to Israel, Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder decided to go skinny dipping. “It’s obviously a mistake and something I regret,” Yoder said.

Some mistakes cost candidates their careers.

Take Gary Hart. He was the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 1988 election, but was suspected of marital infidelities.

He dared reporters to follow him and they discovered evidence that forced him out of the race, including this now-famous picture.

“Incredibly, having a beautiful blonde sitting on his lap aboard a ship called 'Monkey Business.' How much worse can you get in terms of self-destructing?,” Lichtman said.

Other politicians have survived scandal.

Former Washington Mayor Marion Barry has been a politician for 40 years.

He was active in the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King.

In 1990, however, he was captured on an FBI surveillance camera smoking crack cocaine and served six months in prison.

Despite that setback, he was reelected mayor for a fourth term and at age 76 is now a city councilman.

“You sit and you look back and say why did I do this? What was going on in my head? You can’t do anything about that. That is done. What you can do is move forward,” Barry said.

The greatest recent example of a politician surviving scandal is former president Bill Clinton.

Despite an affair with a White House intern, he remains a popular figure.

“And now he is going to be a featured speaker at the Democratic convention and they consider him a big plus,” Lichtman said.

It's anyone's guess when the next political scandal will erupt - or whether it will end in personal disgrace or political resurrection.