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US Republicans Worry about Fallout From Craig Scandal

Some prominent Republicans are calling on conservative Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho to resign in the wake of his June arrest by an undercover policeman investigating sexual activities in an airport men's room. As VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports, Republicans are already worried about national political fallout from the Craig scandal.

Larry Craig has been in Congress for 27 years, first as a congressman and now a senator.

Craig has been a reliable conservative Republican during his years in Congress and a longtime critic of gay marriage. But some of his most stalwart supporters are now abandoning him after revelations this week that he was arrested in the men's room at the Minneapolis, Minnesota airport last June.

An undercover policeman said Craig first looked at the officer through a crack in the bathroom stall door, then sat in the next stall and began to tap his foot in a way that signaled a desire to engage in what the officer called lewd conduct.

Craig eventually pled guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.

But after the arrest and guilty plea became public, Craig held a news conference in his home state of Idaho and denied any wrongdoing.

"Let me be clear. I am not gay," he said. "I never have been gay. I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport. I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in hopes of making it go away."

Craig's defiant defense did not sit well with many of his fellow Republicans, including Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. McCain spoke to the Cable News Network.

"I believe that he pled guilty and he had the opportunity to plead innocent, so I think he should resign," said Senator McCain.

Senate Republican leaders stripped Craig of committee assignments in the Senate pending an ethics investigation. Craig also voluntarily left the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

White House spokesman Tony Snow stopped short of calling for Craig's resignation, but did express disappointment on behalf of President Bush.

"I do not think the president is drawing any global judgment on Republicans," he said. "What we have said is that the story is certainly a disappointment and it is something that the Senate Ethics Committee is going to be handling."

Michigan Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra was the first to call on Craig to resign. Hoekstra told NBC's Today program that Republicans should act swiftly to prevent negative political fallout from the Craig scandal.

"The important thing here is that we need to maintain the integrity of the United States Senate and of the institution of Congress," he said. "I mean, we are at 18 to 20 percent approval ratings and this is one of the reasons why, that when these types of things happen in Congress, it appears there are no consequences. That is unacceptable to the American people."

Some Republicans worry that the Craig scandal could alienate social conservatives within the Republican Party, a key constituency in next year's presidential and congressional elections.

Political experts say Republicans have plenty of other things to worry about next year without having to fend off another sex scandal as they did during the 2006 congressional midterm elections.

The 2006 scandal involving former Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida and his improper involvement with teenage congressional pages was a factor in the Democrats winning control of Congress last year.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato says the Democrats already have an edge going into the 2008 election.

"They have many advantages, not least that we have had one party in power for eight years, and Americans normally like to change after eight years, but they do not always do it," he noted. "Second, there is no question that the president's unpopularity, which stems mainly from Iraq, but also from [Hurricane] Katrina and other events, is going to be an albatross around the neck of any Republican [presidential] nominee."

In the coming weeks Craig is expected to announce whether he will seek a fourth term in the Senate.