- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2007

Sen. Larry E. Craig was free-falling in Idaho opinion polls and getting excoriated on talk-radio shows as the state’s largest paper yesterday called for his resignation over a sex scandal.

“He’s in trouble,” said an Idaho Republican Party official. “There is zero interest in his running for re-election and [Mr. Craig’s previous supporters] want this over with now.”

Elected officials and political aides in Idaho saw similarly grim prospects for the state’s long-serving and well-liked Republican senator, who pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge associated with soliciting homosexual sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.

“Idahoans are sad and in shock. They are staying respectfully silent,” said a Republican political aide, who, like others close to Mr. Craig, did not want to be named discussing the senator’s downfall.

“He’s been here forever and people have benefited from his service,” the aide said. “But they are saying, ‘This has to come to an end. [Mr. Craig], you need to resign.’ ”

The story, however, continued to unfold yesterday with the release of the audiotaped police interview of Mr. Craig after his arrest.

Mr. Craig, 62, did not admit to wrongdoing and he accused the officer of entrapment on the audio tape. But it only fueled discourse about Mr. Craig’s guilty plea and the nature of the incident.

The officer tells Mr. Craig, “You’re going to have to pay a fine and that will be it. … I don’t call media. I don’t do any of that type of [stuff].”

On the tape, Mr. Craig said his foot might have bumped into the foot of the plainclothes police officer, who was sitting in the next bathroom stall, and his hand may have strayed under the stall divider.

He also said, “I am not gay. I don’t do these kinds of things.”

The names of top Idaho Republicans considered prospects for the seat if Mr. Craig decides not to seek re-election next year are already circulating, including Rep. Mike Simpson, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch and U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who stepped down as governor last year to take the administration job.

After Mr. Craig convened a press conference Tuesday to say he pleaded guilty to quickly dispose of an erroneous charge and to insist, “I am not gay,” a SurveyUSA poll showed his support in Idaho plummeting.

Mr. Craig’s statewide approval rating dropped to 34 percent in the automated telephone survey of 600 adults.

His approval numbers had ranged from 71 percent to 81 percent among Republican voters in 19 consecutive monthly surveys, but his rating dropped to 46 percent this week, the poll showed.

Among voters familiar with the scandal, 55 percent said Mr. Craig should step down and 34 percent said he should stay in office, according to the survey.

Pressure also mounted yesterday in Washington, with Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, saying he would resign if he were in Mr. Craig’s position.

“I wouldn’t put myself hopefully in that kind of position, but if I was in a position like that, that’s what I would do,” Mr. Ensign told MSNBC. “He’s going to have to answer that for himself.”

“I think the pressure will continue to build,” he said.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Norm Coleman of Minnesota called for his resignation Wednesday, as Mr. Craig complied with a request from the chamber’s Republican leaders and relinquished his committee assignments, including his post as the party’s ranking member on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Democrats, who won control of the Senate in November, already have an advantage heading into the 2008 election with only 12 of their senators up for re-election compared to 22 Republicans.

The scandal has dominated talk-radio shows in Idaho since the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call first reported it Monday.

Callers to KBOI-AM in Boise have been expressing “embarrassment, disgust,” said t he station’s news director, Ken Weaver.

“We’ve been talking about it [on the air] every morning,” he said. “There are a few here and there that want to give the senator the benefit of the doubt, but then again the guilty plea is hard for them to accept.”

The sentiment was echoed in an editorial in the Idaho Statesman, the state’s largest newspaper, which has pursued longstanding rumors that Mr. Craig is a closet homosexual. But the paper also enthusiastically endorsed Mr. Craig for re-election in 2002.

“Two days ago, we urged Idahoans not to rush to judgment, and give Craig a chance to explain himself. Unfortunately, we have seen and heard enough,” the editorial said. “Craig seems more interested in hunkering down, operating from a defensive state of denial. This is his prerogative. But he should not compromise Idaho interests in the process.

“If Craig wishes to keep his secrets, he may do so as a former U.S. senator,” it said. “His stunning misstep has now cost him his viability and his credibility. He must now step aside.”

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