Bill Clinton goes on a media blitz to promote his memoirs, and wouldn’t you know it, a genuine nineties-style sex scandal erupts.
Illinois Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald is retiring, and Jack Ryan is the Republican nominee running for his seat. (Ryan is no relation to former Governor George Ryan, former gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan, or, for that matter, to the Tom Clancy protagonist of the same name.) With a politically attractive biography — he ended a lucrative investment-banking career to teach in a inner-city school — Ryan had the best shot of any of the candidates he trounced in the GOP primary to go up against Barrack Obama, the smart and fresh-faced Democratic nominee, a liberal state senator who was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.
The Chicago Tribune and Chicago TV station WLS, outdoing even the vast right-wing conspiracy that so cruelly dogged the My Life author, sued to have Ryan’s divorce papers unsealed over the vigorous objection of him and his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan (best known as either Ronnie Cooke on Boston Public or Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, depending on how nerdy you are). There were rumors of embarrassing revelations, and the Illinois media was on a roll: divorce papers had already felled Blair Hull, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary whose support collapsed amid news that he’d physically abused his ex-wife.
It turns out that Jeri Ryan alleged that her husband insisted on taking her to sex clubs during trips to New Orleans, New York, and Paris, where he asked her to perform public sex acts and she angrily refused. Jack Ryan disputed the charges in court, saying “I did arrange romantic getaways for us, but that did not include the type of activity she described. We did go to one avant-garde nightclub in Paris which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with. We left and vowed never to return.” Ryan stands by his statement in court now; Jeri Ryan, for her part, won’t comment except to say that she now considers her ex-husband a good man and a good father.
As soon as this tawdry tale became public, there was talk of Ryan dropping out of the race. But Ryan has vowed to stay in, and anyway it’s hard to see who could take his place and have a serious shot at winning, except perhaps the popular former governor Jim Edgar, who ruled out a run back in the primary season.
Ryan was already the underdog, and this scandal doesn’t help matters. The next senator from Illinois will likely be Barrack Obama. Born to a Kenyan father and a white mother, raised middle class, and Ivy League-educated, Obama doesn’t come from the Jesse Jackson school of political rhetoric; as a tested black politician with a mostly-white electorate behind him and mainstream voice, he’s likely to be a perennial favorite for speculation about Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidacies.
Illinois is one of several Republican Senate seats that look vulnerable; the others are in Alaska, Colorado, and Oklahoma. (Some analysts would also include Pennsylvania, but I’m not one of them.) Since Democratic seats are vulnerable in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and South Dakota, a Democratic Senate remains unlikely. For the Illinois GOP — still smarting from heavy losses it took in 2002 while Republicans prospered elsewhere — that’s small comfort.
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