Analysis:: A felony, drunk driving arrests and #MeToo accusations: Candidates on today’s primary ballots face ethical questions

Joe Ganim, from left, who served time for corruption, is running for Connecticut governor; Randy Bryce, who’s admitted to a DUI, is running for Congress in Wisconsin; and Rep. Keith Ellison, accused of domestic abuse, is running for Minnesota attorney general.
(Associated Press; Janesville Gazette)
Washington Post

Not for the first time this year, 2018 primary voters could elect politicians accused of (or who have admitted to) ethical lapses in a number of top races across the country. There’s a candidate for the House defending his criminal record, a candidate for governor who served seven years in jail, and two high-profile races in Minnesota where #MeToo accusations hang heavy.

Not that any of this is surprising for the era of politics we’re in. It seems that behaving badly, and even being convicted of crimes, is no longer a disqualification for elected office. On one primary day in June, Democratic voters in South Carolina nominated a man who admitted to beating his ex-wife, Republican voters in Nevada nominated a brothel owner for a state Senate seat, and Republican voters in Virginia nominated a supporter of Confederate symbols to the U.S. Senate.

Already, two convicted felons have run in primaries (they lost), and two more are on the ballot this month — including one Tuesday. For a few days last week, a New York congressman up for reelection refused to drop out of his race as he fights insider trading charges.

This is all happening under the umbrella of a president facing multiple sexual harassment allegations, two allegations of paying off women he allegedly had affairs with, and who is at the center of an independent investigation — that he consistently tries to undermine — about Russian election interference.


Speaking of President Trump, nearly every top Republican in a high-profile race Tuesday is trying to convince voters that they actually like the president after dissing him in unequivocal terms when he was running for president.

Here’s where much of the ethical drama will play out Tuesday:

Democratic voters in Connecticut could nominate a convicted felon for governor.

In the Democratic primary for that state’s open governor’s race, businessman Ned Lamont is facing Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim. Ganim served seven years in jail on corruption charges stemming from the last time he was mayor of Bridgeport and how he ran the city. (He got out of jail in 2010 and won his old job back in 2015 under the campaign slogan “I’m truly sorry.”) The primary between the two is competitive.


A front-runner to replace House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has a criminal record.

Wisconsin Democrats feel like the wind is at their backs after they won several state elections this year. Besides trying to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November, their second top prize would be to take the seat held by the retiring U.S. House speaker.

Their top candidate in that race, a mustachioed iron worker named Randy Bryce, has gained national attention and raised millions — and he has had to defend his history of arrests, including on charges of driving under the influence. Bryce failed to appear in court and a warrant was issued for his arrest, CNN reported. He’s also defended being delinquent on child support in 2015.

In Wisconsin, it seems, everyone’s got a past they’d rather voters not remember.

Wisconsin’s Republican Senate primary is one of the biggest races in the state Tuesday, since Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, could be vulnerable in November.

Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir has positioned herself as pro-Trump, but conservative website Breitbart recently posted a potentially troubling video of her describing Trump as “offensive to everyone.”

Leah Vukmir, Kevin Nicholson
Republican U.S. Senate candidates Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson debate in Milwaukee on July 26.
(Tyger Williams / Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Her opponent in that primary has positioned himself as the true outside conservative, but Kevin Nicholson once worked for the Democratic Party, a part of his past he’s been fuzzy about.


In Minnesota, a national Democrat is denying allegations that he abused a woman he was dating.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a top Democratic Party leader and the favorite in Minnesota’s Democratic primary for attorney general, is denying allegations made over the weekend that he dragged a woman off a bed by her feet while yelling at her and using profane language.

“This video does not exist because I never behaved in this way, and any characterization otherwise is false,” he said in a statement.

And one primary Tuesday in Minnesota wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for serious allegations of groping that brought down a U.S. senator. Democrat Al Franken resigned in December after being accused by eight women of inappropriately touching them.

Let’s stay in Minnesota for a second to talk about how Republicans are trying to contort themselves before Trump. That state’s open governor’s race in November has two Republican candidates trying to explain their about-faces on Trump.

Former state lawmaker Jeff Johnson has the state Republican Party’s backing, but has called Trump a “jackass.”

And former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican trying to get his old job back, called Trump “unfit.” In a debate this month, each accused the other of being a hypocrite and a poser.

In the Democratic primary, one of the top candidates, Atty. Gen.Lori Swanson, is in a nasty fight with one of her former aides about allegations that she used the position to advance her political career. She released his criminal record, and he filed a restraining order against her.