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Have any candidates got skeletons in their pasts?

November 2, 2007

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Is is it possible that one of the major candidates could be felled by a scandal?

Over the past week Hillary Clinton has been accused of acting improperly over fundraising, the tabloid National Enquirer has published allegations that Jon Edwards has been having an affair and the journalist Ron Rosenbaum has claimed that the LA Times is sitting on another sex scandal involving the various candidates. However, the Clinton scandal (for now) has sunk into the miasma of the Clintons’ murky business dealings, the Edwards scandal seems to have been (justifiably) ignored by the media and the LA Times story seems to be a figment of Mr Rosenbaum’s imagination. It is also important to get a sense of proportion, if you type in the name of any of the candidates to a search engine you will inevitably come to a site claiming that they are either: corrupt/homosexual and/or part of some shadowy conspiracy. James Carville’s remark about ‘dragging $100 through a trailer park’ probably needs to be updated to encompass cyberspace.

However, this does raise two interesting questions; what magnitude of scandal would be necessary to destroy a candidate and what would happen to the contest if it destroyed one of the front tier candidates? The first question is that, to be effective, a scandal would need to either involve blatant corruption, current adultery or some sexual behaviour that would deeply offend a significant section of Middle America. It is a sad reflection of people’s attitudes that homosexuality would probably qualify while drug use doesn’t. It should be noted that, after the justifiable revulsion created by the attempts to smear John McCain in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, the public will be a lot more sceptical about any scandals and unless they are backed up they will badly backfire.

The more interesting question is the impact that this would have on the contest if frontrunners Fred Thompson, Giuliani or Clinton were felled by scandal. Of course this would depend on the context, all nominees are ultimately replaceable while the withdrawal of a candidate would cause chaos, which is why we won’t see any revelations until after the election. Giuliani is pretty straightforward since his vote would flow to McCain in the event of a forced withdrawal. Hillary Clinton and Fred Thompson might be a little more complicated. I have a lot of problems seeing either Edwards, Richardson or Obama picking up the nomination (though Richardson and Edwards would be more plausible candidates). My guess is that if, Clinton falls down in the next few weeks, however unlikely that is, Al Gore could be tempted to enter the race as a write-in candidate. Fred Thompson is also interesting because someone like Mark Sanford or Haley Barbour might decide that Romney and Huckabee were beatable.

Update: I’ve just bought 100 contracts on Haley Barbour and Mark Sanford winning the GOP nomination. I also bought 10 contracts on Giuliani withdrawing by the end of the year.

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