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In 2008 Race, Private Lives are Public Issues


Last Edited: March 30, 2007, 9:54 am

WASHINGTON (March 29) - In the 2008 race for the White House, the most personal details of a candidate's life -- from divorce to drug use to disease -- can become public issues and campaign-trail fodder.

Privacy is a relative term for the crowded field of presidential contenders, as marital histories, family feuds and medical traumas take their place next to health care and foreign policy as high-profile campaign topics.

From the multiple marriages of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to the cancer prognosis of former Sen. John Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, intensely personal and sometimes painful experiences are now headline news.

"Any presidential candidate must expect that all aspects of their lives are now open for public inspection in a way they weren't 20 or 30 years ago," said Steven Schier, a political analyst at Carleton College in Minnesota.

"We're starting to see private lives get picked over in a way a candidate's voting record used to get picked over," he said.

The personal troubles of presidential contenders became open game in 1988 with revelations about Democratic candidate Gary Hart's extra-marital affair, and gained steam in 1992 with reporting on former President Bill Clinton 's dalliances.

But with the growing popularity of celebrity news and the burgeoning demands of 24-hour news cycles and the Internet, the boundary between the public and private lives of politicians is thinner than ever.

Giuliani's three marriages, and his strained relationship with his children, prompted a flurry of recent stories and a plea to the media from the former mayor.

"The more privacy I can have for my family, the better we are going to be able to deal with all these difficulties," Giuliani recently told reporters in California.

Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, held a news conference and appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes" to discuss the recurrence of her cancer, prompting questions about whether they were using the illness to score political points.

Edwards said he had no problem with the close questioning on "60 Minutes."

"I think part of the evaluation of a candidate for president is a personal evaluation of the character and integrity and honesty of a candidate," he said.


Other candidates in both parties have seen painful aspects of their personal lives surface in public. They often volunteer the information themselves in hopes of reducing its impact.

Sen. John McCain , an Arizona Republican , admits his sexual affairs destroyed his first marriage. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois admitted in his autobiography to marijuana and cocaine use as a youth.

Before he declared his candidacy, Obama even paid off his old parking tickets from his law student days at Harvard University.

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's marital tribulations as first lady, when her husband was impeached in connection with an Oval Office sexual affair, are well documented.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, perhaps laying the groundwork for entering the Republican race later this year, recently admitted he was having an extramarital affair while leading the impeachment charge in Congress  against Clinton.

The effect on voters of this deluge of information is uncertain, analysts say, but personal details can play a huge role in shaping a candidate's image.

"It's all part of how people evaluate candidates," said Republican consultant Rich Galen. "It's like being on a jury -- you can put as much or as little weight on any piece of evidence as you want, but you have to hear all the evidence."

Personal information about candidates can be the easiest thing for voters to understand, said Linda Fowler, a political analyst at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

"They know someone who suffered from cancer, or they know someone at work who takes credit for things they didn't really do, and the press has made these kinds of cues very accessible," she said.

By John Whitesides



Entry #1,041


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