Sanford The Latest In A Series Of Political Sex Scandals

The stunning admission of an extramarital affair by South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, an early favorite of many conservatives for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, is just the latest sex scandal to rock the Republican Party.

Just last week, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, the No. 4 Republican in the Senate, confessed to a similar transgression. While Ensign wasn't on as many White House wannabe lists as Sanford, he had recently visited the early caucus state of Iowa, a sign that he may have had more than a passing interest.

A fellow Nevada Republican, Gov. Jim Gibbons, has been in hot water over salacious details regarding his ongoing divorce proceedings from his wife.

And in recent years, we have watched the spectacle of Sen. David Vitter (LA) appearing on the "D.C. Madam's" clientele list, and lurid e-mails between Rep. Mark Foley (FL) and underage congressional pages. Foley resigned in disgrace; Vitter remains in office and is seeking re-election next year.

Of course, sexual indiscretions are hardly the property of one party. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) resigned in disgrace last year in a prostitution scandal, and New Jersey's Jim McGreevey (D) resigned as governor following his declaration that he is a "gay American." And John Edwards was carrying on an affair with a videographer as he was simultaneously campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination last year — and as his wife was suffering from inoperable breast cancer.

What follows is a chronological list of political sex scandals during the current decade. It does not claim to be complete. Lumping them all together on one list is not to equate them; all sex scandals are, after all, not created equal. But all had political ramifications:

Mark Sanford (R): The South Carolina governor, a potential presidential hopeful and a strong conservative, goes missing for nearly a week, as his staff gives incomplete and conflicting reports as to his whereabouts. Sanford returns from Argentina and admits to an affair with a woman there. He resigns as chairman of the Republican Governors Association but has not yet indicated whether he will quit the governorship.

John Ensign (R): The Nevada senator admits to having an affair with the wife of his former chief of staff. Ensign resigns as Senate Republican Policy Committee chair but says he won't resign his Senate seat; his term ends in 2012.

Jim Gibbons (R): The Nevada governor is in the midst of salacious divorce proceedings, where his wife has accused him of extramarital affairs with several women, including a former Playboy model. Gibbons is up for a second term in 2010.

John Edwards (D): Following months of headlines in the National Enquirer that he was having an affair with Rielle Hunter, who had been videotaping him during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Edwards — his White House hopes long over — confesses to the affair. But he denies the Enquirer's account that Hunter's child is his.

Kwame Kilpatrick (2008): Detroit Mayor Kilpatrick's sworn denial of a romantic relationship with Christine Beatty, his chief of staff, evaporated when racy text messges between the two were uncovered. Kilpatrick, married, was soon charged with perjury. He resigned as mayor in September of 2008.

Vito Fossella (2008): Fossella was the lone Republican congressman from New York City, a rising star in the party, and a potential candidate for mayor. He was also arrested for driving under the influence in Virginia. But then it got worse. He told police he was on his way to seeing his 3-year-old daughter, who was ill. Puzzled, journalists began digging and learned that the child in question was the one he had with his mistress, Laura Fay, a retired Air Force officer. Fay, in fact, was the person who put up bail to have him released from jail. Fossella, who also had a wife and family back home on Staten Island, then announced he would not seek re-election.

Marc Dann (2008): Part of the Ohio Democratic landslide of 2006, Dann was forced to resign as state attorney general in 2008 after admitting he had an affair with a staff member.

Eliot Spitzer (2008): Spitzer, the crimebusting prosecutor who was elected governor of New York in 2006, was discovered to be utilizing a high-priced prostitution service. The first Democrat to win the governorship in 16 years, Spitzer had prosecuted corporate crime, Wall Street fraud and — you guessed it — prostitution as state attorney general. He resigned as governor in March of 2008.

Larry Craig (2007): A conservative GOP senator from Idaho, Craig was in his third term when he was arrested in a Minneapolis airport men's room on a charge of lewd conduct. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct but denied widespread rumors that he is gay. He subsequently decided to retire in 2008.

David Vitter (2007): In 2004, Vitter became the first Republican to be elected to the Senate from Louisiana since Reconstruction, doing so in part by appealing to conservative, "family values" issues. But his phone number appeared in the records of an escort service (read: prostitution ring) run by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called "D.C. Madam." Vitter apologized to his family, God, and the GOP. Republicans, for the most part, have rallied behind him as he seeks a second term next year.

Gavin Newsom (2007): The mayor of San Francisco admitted to having an affair with the wife of his campaign manager. Newsom, a Democrat, is considered a leading candidate for governor of California in 2010.

Antonio Villaraigosa (2007): Amid speculation that he would run for governor of California in 2010, Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa acknowledged having an affair with Mirthala Salinas, a TV reporter who had been covering City Hall. The mayor subsequently decided not to seek the governorship.

Mark Foley (2006): The scandal involving Foley, the conservative Florida congressman who was revealed to have been sending explicit instant message conversations to male, underage, congressional pages, was widely considered to be one of the contributing factors that helped end Republican control of Congress in 2006. Foley resigned his House seat within days of the scandal's going public.

(Meanwhile, the Democrat who won the seat, Tim Mahoney — who campaigned in 2006 on family values — admitted to having an affair with with a campaign staffer. The admission came less than a month before the 2008 election, which he lost.)

Ed Schrock (2004): Schrock, a two-term Republican congressman from Virginia, announced he would not seek re-election in August of 2004 after he was "outed" on a Web site as being gay. There were accusations that Schrock, married with a child, had utilized a service in which men seek liaisons with other men.

Jim McGreevey (2004): McGreevey, a Democrat, resigned as governor of New Jersey after admitting he was gay and had an extramarital affair with the man he had hired as a homeland security adviser.

Jack Ryan (2004): Ryan was forced to quit as the Republican nominee for the Senate in Illinois in 2004, when damaging details about his divorce from actress Jeri Ryan were leaked. Jeri Ryan said that her husband had taken her to sex clubs and was asked to have sex with him in front of other people. Jack Ryan was replaced on the GOP ticket by conservative commentator Alan Keyes, who went on to get trounced by the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama.

Bob Wise (2003): The Democratic governor of West Virginia was accused by a man of having an affair with his estranged wife. Wise, married with two children, acknowledged the accusation and decided not to run for a second term in 2004.

Gary Condit (2001): The relationship between Condit, a moderate California Democratic congressman, with Chandra Levy was revealed after the D.C. intern disappeared. Condit was forced to acknowledge the affair but insisted he had nothing to do with her disappearance (and ultimately it was proven true). But voters back home had had enough, soundly rejecting him in the March 2002 Democratic primary.

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