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Disgraced Politicians Try To Stage Their Second Acts


From NPR News, this is all things considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Americans love a political comeback. When it comes to sex scandals, voters seem increasingly willing to forgive, if not forget. That's what former Congressman Anthony Weiner and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford are hoping, as they attempt a return to public office.

But, as NPR's Joel Rose reports, both politicians face major hurdles.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: A generation ago, marital infidelity could signal the end of a political career. These days, it's more like the intermission before the second act.

MARK SANFORD: One thing that I've consistently done through this campaign is to acknowledge the fact that I failed back in 2009...

ANTHONY WEINER: I should not have been dishonest with so many people.

ROSE: Both Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner are trying to climb back into politics after spectacular falls. Weiner, you may recall, left Congress almost two years ago after tweeting pictures of his naked torso and underwear to women other than his wife and then lying about it. It's been four years since Mark Sanford made hiking the Appalachian Trail synonymous with infidelity.

COSTAS PANAGOPOULOS: I think the public has evolved in how it evaluates these scandals.

ROSE: Costas Panagopoulos teaches political science at Fordham University in New York. He says the first step in a successful comeback is to apologize early and often.

PANAGOPOULOS: The key for politicians, in terms of rehabilitating their image after one of these scandals, is for them to come across as truly remorseful and honest about having learned from their mistakes.

ROSE: Weiner is mulling a run for mayor of New York. His apology tour began last weekend with a story in The New York Times Magazine and continued with an interview this week on local cable channel NY1.

WEINER: There are people that have said to me, get back in there. And there are people who have said that to me today. And there are also people that maybe I'll never persuade, but I still want to talk to them, as well.

ROSE: Weiner may be a few steps behind Sanford, who's running in a special election to fill the congressional seat he once held in South Carolina. He won the Republican primary there earlier this month.


ROSE: Confessing one's sins may be a good place to start. But it takes more than that to earn voters' forgiveness, that's according to Mary Ellen Balchunis, who teaches political science at La Salle University in Philadelphia.

MARY ELLEN BALCHUNIS: I do think it's important to what the spouse us. Who knows more about the candidate than the spouse? If they're willing to forgive, then I think it bodes well for the campaign.

ROSE: That does not bode well for Mark Sanford. This week, his ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, accused him of trespassing at her home. By contrast, Anthony Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin - a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton - seems to be firmly in his corner. But that said, Weiner faces some unique challenges of his own.

SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE: He has an obstacle: The New York tabloid press.

ROSE: Sherry Bebitch Jeffe is a senior fellow at the University of Southern California.

JEFFE: The New York Post and the New York Daily News are not going to let voters forget what Weiner did.

ROSE: Still, a poll out this week shows Weiner running second among possible Democratic candidates for mayor. Fordham's Costas Panagopoulos says that shows a real, if slim chance, for Weiner to win.

PANAGOPOULOS: This field remains wide open in some respects. And he just may be the one candidate that can galvanize support across a wide swath of New Yorkers, which none of the other candidates seem to really be doing and in any very serious way.

ROSE: Both Anthony Weiner and Mark Sanford have the name recognition to win, if they can convince voters to trust them. And they may find that doesn't get any easier the second time around.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
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