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LOS ANGELES MAYOR Antonio Villaraigosa, the latest in a long line of political leaders to be caught having an extramarital affair, would have done well to consult the bible before cheating on his wife. Not the King James version but the political bible, in which the seventh commandment states: "Thou shalt not commit adultery, unless you're a Republican."
Perhaps it's more perception than reality, but it seems that Democrats' sexual shenanigans do more damage to their political careers than Republicans' do. Examples of Republican leaders who have gone on to enjoy long and fruitful political careers after dumping or openly betraying their spouses include GOP presidential front-runner and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who cavorted publicly with his mistress and famously announced his divorce in a news conference before he had informed his wife; Sen. John McCain of Arizona, another presidential candidate, who remarried just one month after his 1980 divorce; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who divorced his first wife while she was recovering from cancer surgery; and our own Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, elected by a landslide despite widespread allegations that he took an overly hands-on approach toward female co-workers.
Democrats whose careers have crumbled after being caught with their pants down include onetime presidential candidate Gary Hart, whose campaign floundered when his affair was discovered; former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, who lost his job as Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Clinton administration after lying about an affair; and former Rep. Gary Condit of Modesto, brought down by revelations that he'd had an affair with slain intern Chandra Levy. President Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky led to an impeachment and helped torpedo Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign.
This theory is by no means foolproof. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, remains popular despite an affair with his campaign manager's wife. Former Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) was unseated in the mid-'90s amid groping allegations that would make Schwarzenegger blush. But it may well be that Republicans are better at using their opponents' sexual peccadilloes against them, summoning up the moral outrage among voters that can be deadly in a close race. It also doesn't help roving-eyed Democrats that women are a mainstay of the party, and women don't appreciate men who cheat.
Villaraigosa, a Democrat who is widely believed to have his eye on the governor's desk in 2010, should keep all that in mind. Of course, none of it may matter if the political handicappers are correct: Villaraigosa's main competition in the gubernatorial race might well turn out to be none other than Newsom. Let he who is without sin sling the first mud.