Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The accusations that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer patronized a high-priced call girl tarnishes, if not undermines, the Democrats’ attempt to portray the Republican Party as the party of corruption in this year’s elections, even as it probably ends his own political career.

The stunning confession yesterday by Mr. Spitzer, who had built a national law-enforcement reputation by prosecuting corrupt financiers on Wall Street, turns him into the most prominent political figure in the country to emerge in a recent string of personal and political scandals. Those scandals had seemed to catch more Republicans and led to steep losses for the party in the 2006 elections.

“I don’t know how he survives this,” said New York political pollster John Zogby.

“Real men make real mistakes, but he never allowed for that when he was prosecuting people on Wall Street. He’s wide open to charges of hypocrisy,” Mr. Zogby said.

The scandal held deep political implications for New York Democrats as well as for the national party at a time when party leaders were hoping to score major election gains in the state Legislature and in Washington.

Democrats need to win only one more seat to take over the state Senate in November, but “having a seriously wounded governor offers New York Republicans the chance to make their campaign statewide,” Mr. Zogby said.

At the national level, the specter of corruption by a major Democratic governor threatened to undercut the Democrats’ “culture of corruption” campaign that worked in 2006 against the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress, analysts said yesterday. It could also hurt at least one of their potential presidential nominees, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

“It’s going to be a bit tougher to run against the corruption of the Republican Party. This was one of only a few Democrats [hit by scandal], but it is the governor of New York and the governor of Senator Clinton’s state,” Mr. Zogby said.

“She’s going to have to take a stand on a guy who was elected with almost 70 percent of the vote,” he said. “There were signs that he might be rebounding. Not any more.”

Yesterday’s revelations also shook the Democratic Governors Association, which was laying plans to extend their gubernatorial gains in November with Mr. Spitzer’s help on the campaign trail.

“This is not the time to play politics, particularly as investigations are ongoing. Until all the facts of this case are known, we should all exercise caution and restraint,” said Nathan Daschle, the DGA’s executive director.

Mr. Spitzer won national acclaim as a crime-fighting prosecutor who went after some of the biggest powerhouses on Wall Street, then rode his fame into the governor’s office by crushing his Republican opponent in a record-breaking vote.

But since taking office last year, his star has dimmed substantially. He and his administration were under investigation for what political critics called “political espionage” waged to bring down his political nemesis, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

The case has been vigorously pursued by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has his own ambitions to become governor.

Mr. Spitzer’s political reputation was further tarnished by public anger over his plan to provide driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, a proposal that proved so unpopular he was forced to withdraw it.

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