The uproar around Representative David Wu, the Democrat of Oregon's 1st district, exploded again last week - after several quiet months - with a report in the Oregonian that a young woman (evidently 18 or 19 years old) in southern California alleged that Wu had made unwanted sexual advances toward her. Many details are missing, including what exactly Wu was accused of doing, but the congressman seems to have acknowledged that an affair occurred. This adding a sexual dimension to the Wu story, calls for resignation have arisen from many quarters.
Our view is that calls for congressional resignation have gotten remarkably quick whenever something sexual gets into headlines with public officials, and that such people as New York Representatives Anthony Weiner and Christopher Lee, and former Idaho Senator Larry Craig, had no ethical need to resign (and Craig did not). That's not to judge the Wu case yet at least, since so many details are missing and many gaps are likely to be filled in over coming weeks.
But the calls for resignation are intense enough, both from national levels (Democratic leadership apparently has at least discussed the option with Wu) and within Oregon, that resignation clearly is on the table; we just don't know yet what Wu will do.
What are the political implications?
If Democrats seem to be taking the lead in calling for Wu's resignation, it's not hard to see what the incentive would be.
Wu has been raising money for a 2012 campaign, and he has indicated he's planning to run. But after all that's happening, both early this year and last week, re-election has to be considered a long shot. He has a loyal core of supporters, polling has shown, but they are likely to wear away as time goes on. And a rough primary contest next May, in which Democrats spend a good deal of time and money battling each other, could benefit Republicans considerably. The 1st district is strongly Democratic, but a breaking point could always arrive with enough provocation.
On the other hand, a Wu resignation could cement the Democratic advantage. One Democrat - state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian - has been in the field for a while, has had good fundraising (for a primary challenger), is well-organized and has been working. He would be well-positioned to win primary and general if a special election were held. State Representative Brad Witt is also in, newer to the race and well behind Avakian in money and organization, but would provide an option for Democrats.
No Republican has entered yet, or apparently made any serious moves toward entry. A Republican would have to start from scratch, ramp up in a big hurry, and overcome formidable odds in an unfavorable district. The best Republican scenario seems to be a run against Wu in November 2012. A win for a Democrat in a special election this summer or fall would give Democrats nationally some good headlines and momentum, and would cement Avakian (or Witt) as the incumbent come November 2012 - a much tougher challenge for a Republican than running for a de facto open seat.