Here we thought a proposal on driver's licenses was about all the damage Gov. Eliot Spitzer, D-N.Y., could do to his favored candidate.
With apologies to Mississippi -- voting in presidential primaries on Tuesday, with polls closing at 8 pm ET and 33 Democratic convention delegates at stake -- the day's politics are being swamped by a plotline that would have been rejected by the producers of "The Wire."
It turns out Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., didn't need a Ken Starr impersonator -- here's the reminder of scandals past that she'd rather not be coping with just as she's gotten control of the campaign's trajectory again. (Once she's learned what she needs to about this case, does she denounce, reject, or -- the Clinton Standard -- denounce AND reject?)
The Spitzer thunderbolt appears to mark the stunning, early end of a once promising political career. Even if he chooses to stay in office (less than likely, at this point) he forever wears the scarlet sobriquet "Client 9."
It's too delicious a storyline to live down, not when you've made as many enemies -- and done so as gleefully -- as Spitzer. Sen. Barack Obama may not ever have to go to the gutter, not if the gutter decides to show its rusty face on its own, in the personage of Clinton's home-state governor (and superdelegate).
"He stands close to ruin's precipice, this tireless crusader and once-charmed politician reduced to a notation on a federal affidavit: Client 9," Michael Powell and Mike McIntire write in The New York Times. "The tawdry nature of his current troubles -- to be caught on tape arranging a hotel-room liaison with a high-priced call girl, according to law enforcement officials -- shocked even his harshest critics, though not all were surprised that he would risk so much."
After the apology -- complete with the political ritual of an uncomfortable wife at a podium -- Spitzer "returned to his Fifth Avenue apartment and remained there on Monday night, receiving counsel from his advisers and weighing a possible resignation," Danny Hakim and William K. Rashbaum write in The New York Times. "One law enforcement official who has been briefed on the case said that Mr. Spitzer's lawyers would probably meet soon with federal prosecutors to discuss any possible legal exposure."
The New York Post: "HO NO!"
The New York Daily News: "PAY FOR LUV GOV."
If consignment to tabloid hell is the first piece of punishment visited upon political scoundrels (and good luck controlling a media firestorm in Gotham) what's next for Spitzer?
It's his (not to mention Clinton's) misfortune that this comes in the hyper-politicized heat of a presidential race (one his name has already been close to), in that stage of the game where every possession takes on added meaning.
Clinton, who counts Spitzer among her superdelegates (though she also has the support of his would-be replacement, Lt. Gov. David Paterson), gets the next move. Until or unless Spitzer resigns (or is run over by the campaign, like Mitt Romney, who deftly maneuvered his bus right over Sen. Larry Craig) he will be a walking, talking distraction to a campaign that would rather not revive memories of marital infidelities.