Sen. Larry Craig: Liability to Republicans?

In the continuing effort to clear his name, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, this week filed an appeal to withdraw his guilty plea in connection with an arrest in an airport men's room sex sting. But many Republicans are furious that he's still around at all, drawing media attention and, in their view, embarrassing the Republican Party.

The four-page appeal does not explain under what basis Craig is filing his appeal to the order issued Oct. 4, 2007, by Hennepin County District Court Judge Charles Porter for Craig's original guilty plea not to stand. Craig must prove that Porter committed an "abuse of discretion" in his ruling.

"The facts in the case speak for themselves, and we are confident the senator's guilty plea will stand," said Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

In an interview with Idaho's KTVB to air this evening, Craig said he is merely exercising the same rights available to any citizen.

"It is my right to do what I am doing," Craig said, suggesting that since he is retiring from the U.S. Senate at the end of his term, "I am no longer in the way. I am no longer blocking the political process of Idaho, but I am pursuing my constitutional rights."

The senior senator pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct after he was arrested in a gay sex sting in a men's room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Craig told NBC that he "was very proud of my association with Mitt Romney," the GOP presidential candidate, "and he not only threw me under his campaign bus, he backed up and ran over me again."

But Republican officials seem to have little sympathy for Craig. They watch late-night television too, and they see how Craig has become a punch line.

"The Democrats may have control of the House, but the Republicans have control of the bathroom," "The Tonight Show's" Jay Leno cracked.

And when the public health group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wanted to depict Washington sleaze, it used images from the Craig affair as shorthand for it. In the group's new TV ad, called "Dirty Little Secret," a politician in a bathroom stall tap-tap-taps his foot as a secret signal that he wants to receive money from the pork industry that's represented in the commercial by a large pink pig.

"It's their dirty little secret, members of Congress taking PAC money from corporations producing bacon, burgers and other fatty foods," says the narrator, describing the disconcerting relationship between Congress and companies that make unhealthy food that ends up in school lunches. The Craig scandal is the quick way to mock D.C. corruption and deviance.

The ad, said former presidential adviser David Gergen, quickly makes the connection between "Larry Craig-Republicans-hypocrisy-scandal."

"Everybody in the country understands now what tapping your foot means in a bathroom stall," said Gergen. "Most people hadn't a clue before, so that is why it's so easy to exploit this and make it a continued embarrassment for the Republican Party."

That's exactly why Republican officials want Craig to honor his previous pledge to resign, including Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., a member of the Senate Republican leadership.

"I think it is best for the U.S. senate," said Ensign, who as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee has to worry about what effect the Craig scandal might have on the overall election climate for the GOP in 2008. "I think it is best for his party that if he just keeps his word."

But Craig says he is not going anywhere. He believes he can continue to be an effective senator, and he says he wants to clear his name through the Senate ethics committee process.

"From the outset, Sen. Craig has maintained that he is innocent of any illegal conduct at the Minneapolis airport," said Billy Martin, Craig's attorney, in a statement. "Like every other citizen, Senator Craig has the constitutional right to make every effort to clear his name."

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