- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

Republican officials have strong but conflicting feelings on whether Sen. Larry E. Craig, of Idaho, should immediately quit the Senate for the good of his party.

“Larry Craig should resign,” said Oklahoma Republican National Committee member Bunny Chambers. “Any elected official should be an example of integrity, honesty and of excellent moral character. But he is an embarrassment to his party, his family, the Senate and the country.”

Mr. Craig has come under rising pressure to resign since the Senate Select Committee on Ethics formally admonished him Wednesday for acting improperly in connection to a men’s room sex sting last year.

“If he’s still sitting in the Senate when the fall campaigns begin, it will make it easier for the Democrats to feature him in attack ads against ‘scandal-ridden’ Republican hypocrites,” said a Western-state lawyer and White House official in President Bush’s first term.

“The Democrats will be able to make it seem like Larry’s thumbing his nose at the ethics committee, his Senate colleagues and the public.”

But conservative strategist Richard A. Viguerie said the Republican Party’s chance to wipe some of the egg from its face has passed.

“It would have been better for the GOP if Senator Craig had resigned when the matter first became public,” Mr. Viguerie said. “But even if he resigns now, it is not going to have any effect on 2008 election results.”

Mr. Craig said he will neither quit before his term expires this year nor seek another term. Mr. Craig, a family-values proponent first elected to the Senate in 1990, has endorsed Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch as his successor.

While many Republican officials, including Idaho Republican PartyChairman J. Kirk Sullivan, declined to comment publicly on the Craig issue, some Democrats weren’t shy.

“Are the Democrats going to make GOP scandals, corruption and hypocrisy a fall campaign issue? You bet,” said Democratic lawyer and party activist Bennet G. Kelly.

“The GOP loves to joke about Bill Clinton or Teddy Kennedy, but in the last two years they have given us Mark Foley, David Vitter and Larry Craig — the three stooges of Republican hypocrisy.”

Mr. Kelly noted the Sept. 1-4 Republican National Convention will be held in Minneapolis. Mr. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after a police officer accused him of soliciting sex in a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport restroom in June.

Democrats have a 51-49 Senate majority, and of the 34 Senate seats up for election in November, Republicans hold 22 and Democrats hold 12. What makes Republicans sweat their prospects even more is that of the Republican seats, four are open, with the incumbent retiring. Overall, between six and nine are considered vulnerable. Some observers figure Democrats could hold as many as 60 seats when the Senate reconvenes next year.

Mr. Craig’s potential effect on that math is unclear.

Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona said it makes little difference whether Mr. Craig quits now or serves out his term.

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