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Crawford: Don’t bury Edwards’ career just yet

POSTED: August 21, 2008 5:01 a.m.

It would be difficult to have missed the story last week about the sensational confession from John Edwards that he had an extramarital affair a couple of years ago.

Edwards, who ran for president after the illicit liaison, had been mentioned in recent weeks as a possible selection for vice president or a spot in the cabinet if Barack Obama should win the presidential election. Those possibilities are no longer on the table and a recurring point of discussion among the pundits is that Edwards' political career has been ended by the sex scandal.

Has his political career really been destroyed? If you look at recent political history, especially here in Georgia, you'll see that politicians can have all sorts of problems with their spouses and still have no trouble getting elected to public office.

One example is the other major party candidate for president, John McCain.

More than 25 years ago, McCain was involved with the woman who would become his second wife while he was still married to his first wife. McCain married beer distribution heiress Cindy Hensley only five weeks after the divorce from his first wife, Carol, became final.

McCain has taken full responsibility for the failure of his first marriage, writing in his autobiography: "My marriage's collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity. The blame was entirely mine."

The divorce and quick remarriage never hurt McCain politically; the people of Arizona have elected him on four different occasions to the U.S. Senate and he won the Republican Party's nomination for president this year.

Edwards has been criticized because he conducted his affair while his wife, Elizabeth, was fighting cancer, but that's not an unusual action for a politician.

Georgia's own Newt Gingrich visited his first wife, Jackie, while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery to discuss details of a divorce. Gingrich later divorced his second wife to marry a congressional aide who was more than 20 years younger than him.

Despite Gingrich's marital issues, Georgia voters elected him to serve 20 years in Congress, where he became one of the most powerful figures in national politics as speaker of the House. Gingrich was even toying with the idea last year of running for president.

Another Georgia politician, former attorney general Mike Bowers, disclosed in 1997 as he was preparing to run for governor that he had been involved in a long affair with a woman working in the state law department.

That revelation probably contributed to Bowers' loss in the 1998 Republican primary, but he has remained influential in state politics. Bowers was a key adviser to Sonny Perdue when Perdue upset Roy Barnes in the 2002 governor's race and he later served a chairman of the governor's Judicial Nominating Commission, where Bowers recommended lawyers for judgeship appointments.

In 2006, Bowers teamed up with Barnes to raise money for state Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein and help her fend off an election challenge from a candidate funded by out-of-state political groups.

Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson is another state politician who has been the subject of much speculation about his personal life. In 2007, an ethics complaint accused Richardson of having an "inappropriate relationship" with a gas company lobbyist.

While that complaint was dismissed without a hearing into the details of the allegation, Richardson was later divorced from his wife, Susan. That divorce attracted widespread media attention because the presiding judge, who was a former law associate of Richardson, attempted to seal the records from public disclosure.

All of the publicity from that ethics complaint and the divorce proceeding did not appear to hurt Richardson politically in his Paulding County legislative district. Not a single Republican or Democrat bothered to run against Richardson for re-election this year. He is facing opposition for the speaker's position from another House member, Rep. David Ralston, but he could well be able to survive that challenge as well.

That brings us back to Edwards. What he did to his wife and family was, without question, dishonorable and damaging to them. Edwards and his wife will decide how to deal with it, but their decision is their own private matter.

It would be a mistake to assume that Edwards has no future in politics, however. As we have seen with some of Georgia's most powerful politicians, marital problems won't keep you out of public office or lessen your political influence.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Thursdays.



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