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Mrs. Pelosi said Ney’s October 2006 guilty plea was a “tragedy for his family, his constituents and all Americans, and it is further proof that the Republican culture of corruption has pervaded Congress.”

Three weeks later, Ney resigned from his House seat.

Democrats don’t condone their colleagues headline-grabbing missteps, but they say it’s unfair to equate bad marital judgment with the graft of several Republicans.

“The American people are more than capable of being able to differentiate between the personal problems of a few and a Republican Party that was dominated by the corrupt practices of Tom DeLay and Jack Ambramoff,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

And Mrs. Pelosi’s office noted that the Republican culture of corruption is ongoing.

Sen. Ted Stevens, the chamber’s longest serving Republican, was indicted in July on federal charges of lying about getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from an oil-services firm. The long-running investigation of Alaska’s Mr. Stevens, 84, was fodder in the 2006 campaign.

Whether a politician leaves office after a scandal is dependent on several factors, according to pollster John Zogby. The ultimate goodbye hinges on three things - the degree of the public’s distaste for self-proclaimed “do-gooder” politicians, their expendability of that politician and if their actions were truly illegal.

“It certainly doesn’t help that John Edwards was very high profile and wanted a visible role in the campaign, and that he and his wife proved to be very different than they appeared to be. The Elliott Spitzer problem has legs because it was so dramatic. He raised expectations, and it was powerful. Barack Obama has also raised such expectations,” Mr. Zogby said.

“Secondly, Americans demand authenticity in their candidates. So against this kind of backdrop, it’s prudent to be careful. Very careful,” Mr. Zogby cautioned.

The timing of the Democratic transgressions couldn’t have been worse.

As the presidential campaign was picking up speed just over a year ago, Mr. Villaraigosa revealed he had been having an affair with a TV reporter. A few months later, federal wiretaps revealed that Mr. Spitzer had spent $15,000 on a young prostitute; he resigned during a televised press conference in March, his wife stony-eyed by his side.

As a pre-emptive strike, Mr. Spitzer’s replacement, Lt. Gov. William Patterson, came forward on the day of his inauguration to publicly announce that he had once cheated on his wife with other women - including a state employee. Mr. Patterson carefully stipulated that he had not offered any career favors and that no campaign or state money had been spent in the process.

Also in March, Wayne County prosecutors filed criminal charges against Mr. Kilpatrick for misconduct in office; his extramarital affair with a staff member became public in July.

But the best - or worst depending on one’s viewpoint - was yet to come.

With the highest profile of any of them, Mr. Edwards, a potential running mate of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, had the most spectacular plummet from grace in the beginning of August. Initial tabloid reports made almost a year earlier that the presidential hopeful was involved in an adulterous relationship with a female campaign worker even as his wife suffered from breast cancer ultimately proved true.

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