In this election, many races are really just about sex

Cover your eyes, kids, it’s time to round up a few of this week’s headlines from the midterm elections.

“During National Character Counts Week, Bush Stumps for Philanderer.” The Washington Post.

“Gubernatorial race: Gibbons denies doing anything inappropriate, offensive.” Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“Ellison campaign says woman has blackmail in mind.” Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Priest offers further details about his relations with Foley.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Oh my. The news from some of this year’s political campaigns reads more like the script for a tawdry soap opera. And that’s inspiring candidates and party leaders to execute some creative campaign strategies to try to maintain the moral high ground.

In Pennsylvania, four-term Republican Rep. Don Sherwood is running for his political life after revelations that he had a five-year extramarital affair, and that he settled a lawsuit claiming he had choked the woman. He denies the choking part.

White House spokesman Tony Snow was left to explain why President Bush had agreed to campaign on behalf of a confessed adulterer. Bush “believes that we’re all sinners, we all seek forgiveness, and in this particular case, he’s supporting Don Sherwood’s candidacy,” the spokesman gamely offered.

The president himself managed to cast the matter in upbeat terms during a campaign appearance Thursday with the Sherwood family, praising Sherwood’s wife as a “caring and courageous woman” because of a letter she wrote to constituents in which she denounced her husband’s opponent for showing campaign ads about the affair.

Sherwood’s opponent, Democrat Chris Carney, has run ads telling voters that the congressman “went to Washington and didn’t remember the values of this district.”

In Nevada, another loyal wife stood beside Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons, the leading candidate in the state’s governor’s race, as he denied claims that he had assaulted and propositioned a woman he’d been drinking with during a raucous night at a restaurant bar earlier this month. The woman made three calls to 911 and gave a statement to police about the alleged assault, but she later chose not to pursue the matter.

“I’m a happily married man, a father and a grandfather,” Gibbons proclaimed Thursday, clenching his wife Dawn’s hand. Gibbons said the woman, who he said “might have been tipsy,” tripped outside the restaurant and he tried to help her up.

“Gosh, I learned an important lesson, never to offer a helping hand to anybody ever again,” he said.

In Minnesota, Democratic House candidate Keith Ellison and a woman who claimed she had an affair with him have sought dueling restraining orders. Ellison, the leading candidate for an open House seat, denies he had an affair with Amy Alexander, who says they had an on-and-off relationship for 12 years. Ellison obtained a restraining order against her last year, and claims she tried to extort $10,000 in hush money. Alexander sought her own restraining order against him. On Wednesday, Ellison filed papers asking a judge to dismiss Alexander’s request.

In Florida, there’s the granddaddy of this year’s sexcapades, which, so far at least, doesn’t appear to involve any actual sex.

Republican Rep. Mark Foley (news, bio, voting record), who was cruising to re-election, abruptly resigned last month after allegations surfaced that he sent sexually explicit instant messages to teenage male pages. Since then, there has been a steady stream of revelations about his contacts with pages, and plenty of circular finger-pointing among GOP House leaders about who should have reined him in.

Foley, who is gay, said he wasn’t trying to excuse his behavior but let it be known that he was an alcoholic and had been sexually molested by a clergyman when he was a boy. Now, a Roman Catholic diocese has opened an investigation into the conduct of a priest who said he fondled and shared naked saunas with Foley when the congressman was an altar boy.

There’s plenty of evidence, if any is needed, that people are turned off by the taint on politics.

Scandal and corruption rank among the top concerns for likely voters, with three-fourths saying those issues are very important to them personally and almost half saying they will be very important in their vote, according to Associated Press-Ipsos polling.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart said the Foley scandal “cut right to the quick” with voters because it had to do with protecting children and with politicians who put their own interests ahead of the minors. And that scandal has made voters more sensitive about alleged dalliances involving other candidates in both parties, he said.

“It’s six degrees of separation,” Hart said. “Each of them may have different problems, but to the voters in their district or to voters in general, it’s all part of the same thing.”

Hart added: “The words sex and scandal, no matter what it may be, put you in the bull’s-eye for this election.”

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press