Pressure is building, especially within the Democratic Party, for Oregon Congressman David Wu to resign in the wake of his latest brush with alleged sexual misconduct. Wu says he may retire when his current term ends, but he won't resign. However, chances are good he will have little choice, as recent examples have shown.
New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, after sending suggestive images of himself to young women on Twitter, tried to sidestep resignation by taking a two-week sabbatical to enter a rehab clinic. It didn't work.
New York Congressman Chris Lee called it quits after news surfaced he sent a shirtless picture of himself to a woman he befriended on Craigslist.
After being charged with having an affair with a campaign aide, Nevada Senator John Ensign went through the political grieving process, saying first he would stand for re-election and let voters decide, then indicating he would retire, but stay in office. Finally, under the pressure of an Ethics Committee investigation, he quit.
Wu will face similar pressure as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said over the weekend she will request an inquiry into Wu's alleged aggressive sexual behavior toward a young woman who is the daughter of a long-time friend and campaign donor. It is the latest, and quickest unfolding, in a series of scandals that has rocked Wu, including the mass exodus of his staff following his re-election in 2010.
The Oregonian depicts Wu as "defiant." But at a recent appearance at the Oregon Zoo, Wu looked weary and isolated. Hardly anyone in the large crowd went over to him to say hello and shake his hand — a crushing omission for attention-starved politicians.
If Wu resigns, a special election will be held in Oregon's First District to pick his replacement. For Democratic challenger Brad Avakian, Oregon's Labor Commissioner who declared early and has a running start on a campaign, the sooner Wu resigns the better. Fellow Democrat Rep. Brad Witt also has jumped into the race and Senator Suzanne Bonamici is considering her candidacy, but Avakian has a clear advantage now in endorsements, veteran campaign staff and cash.
Oregon Republicans may have been caught flat-footed by the latest Wu hubbub, with no prominent political figure poised to plunge into a race for an open seat in Congress in the First District that has lost a chunk of dependable Democratic voters in Southwest Portland as a result of redistricting approved by the 2011 Oregon legislature.
The 2012 primary and general election campaigns for Wu's congressional seat will be fought within the new boundaries. However, according to the Oregon Secretary of State's office, a special election to fill the unexpired portion of Wu's current term in the event he resigns would be waged in the existing congressional district boundaries, which would tend to favor a Democrat.
The Secretary of State's office also says the governor would have discretion in when to call a special election, as well as whether to schedule a special primary election. As time advances closer to next year's May primary, there could be pressure to use it for a special election, even though it would create unusual complexity because candidates — maybe even some of the same candidates — would be running in two differently configured districts at the same time.
Vacant congressional seats, unlike U.S. Senate seats, must be filled by an election.