Bauer: I am not a slut!

Only God knows why the GOP hopeful called a press conference to deny he's having an affair with a pretty staff member.

Topics: Republican Party, Sex, Love and Sex,

GOP presidential aspirant Gary Bauer held an odd, meandering press conference Wednesday in which he vehemently denied obscure and little-reported rumors that he was having an affair with an attractive, 26-year-old blond female aide.

Indeed, Bauer, who began by introducing his wife of 27 years, Carol, and their three children, insisted that he had “not ever had any physical contact with anybody — in my campaign or out of my campaign — other than my wife.”

Bauer, a Christian activist and the former president of the Family Research Council, said that the “disgusting, outrageous, evil, and sick” rumor had been circulating in Washington for “five or six weeks.” While never mentioning competing candidate Malcolm “Steve” Forbes by name, Bauer and several of his aides hinted strongly that Forbes’ minions had been the ones spreading the story.

“There are people here in the media that have told us in recent days that a particular campaign’s doing this,” Bauer said. “I think it’s a fair guess to suggest that somebody wants to drive me out of the campaign.”

A Forbes aide dismissed Bauer’s charges as groundless. “We did not hear about this thing until we saw it on ‘The Hotline,’” a daily political news and gossip roundup, the Forbes aide says. “The whole thing is silly; it’s absurd. Believe me, we’re not spending any time worrying about Gary’s love life.”

Others were worrying, however. According to a Bauer campaign source, rumors about a personal relationship between Bauer and the aide had been circulating within Bauer’s own campaign ranks for months before the report trickled out into the media on Tuesday. The source said that Bauer has been traveling with her on a daily basis and the two have been so inseparable that it was like a “husband-wife relationship.”

Several times throughout the past few months, the aide said, top advisors have warned Bauer about the office rumors and advised him to distance himself from the woman. The aides worried about the “appearance factor,” the source said — that it didn’t look good for Bauer to be spending so much time with an attractive young woman. According to Washington Post religion writer Hanna Rosin, many other Christian conservatives — like the Rev. James Dobson and the Rev. Billy Graham — have avoided traveling with women for that very reason.

“Bauer told them basically to buzz off — that it was his personal business,” says the Bauer campaign source.

When asked today if aides had ever expressed concerns about Bauer’s travels or closed-door meetings with the aide, Bauer repeatedly dodged the question, saying only that he has “a right to meet with people on my campaign staff … [and] to have strategy meetings.”

Bauer told reporters he decided he had to act once he realized that the rumors had spread throughout the capital. “Everybody I know has heard this report,” he said.

At first, Bauer said, he “didn’t know how to handle it.” He said he had shared the rumor with his family because of “the possibility that in a small town like Washington, D.C., they would hear this from” others.

“This was becoming so widespread, and each time it was passed around it had a different angle to it, or a different permutation to it, and it went directly to me and my wife and my children,” he said. “And the prospect that I was facing is that this sort of rumor-mongering and character assassination would continue forever.”

Those who know both Bauer and the woman insist that the charges are false, even preposterous. “This rumor is a complete lie,” insists Sheila Moloney, executive director of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum — who once worked for Bauer at the Family Research Council and is “good friends” with the woman.

“I have complete confidence in Gary that he is and has always been a completely faithful husband and father,” Moloney says. “There are people out to destroy him, [but] the one rumor that I never think would stick would be that one.”

The aide, Moloney added, is “a great lady, someone I’m proud to call a friend. And she’s being very strong. If you asked her about this, her first reaction would be to laugh. If it wasn’t so serious — the type of effect this can have on someone’s reputation and someone’s campaign — I think we’d all be laughing.”

Moloney’s steadfast support notwithstanding, the rumor found some all-too-eager believers. “It’s always those religious guys who have the skeletons in their closets,” one former Republican senator stated. “Like [Jimmy] Swaggart or — what was his name? [Jim] Bakker? The ones who are talking about how corrupt society is are usually the ones with things like that going on behind closed doors.”

But regardless of how fast and furious the juice spilled throughout D.C. — and how many lapped it up — Bauer said he was only prompted to act after the rumors trickled to the public through the syndicated radio talk show hosted by Don Imus. On Tuesday, Imus and Newsweek’s Howard Fineman discussed the rumor published in the New York Daily News that an unnamed GOP candidate was having an affair. “Wouldn’t it be great if it were” Bauer? Imus asked.

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It was then, Bauer explained at his press conference, that he felt compelled to come forward publicly “to defend my honor and my family … If you don’t deny something, people will think in this town that it’s true. That would be devastating to me … my wife … [and] to my children. I had to put all political calculations aside … I had to think about the four people I love the most.”

Ironically, the media reports of the rumors were nothing compared to what the coverage will now be of his denial. Bauer’s Nixonian speech is reminiscent of the time that former Sen. Bill Scott held a press conference after a magazine named him one of the dumbest members of Congress. Scott denied the silly charges — which no one had taken very seriously until he showed his political ineptitude by holding the press conference.

“This is what I’ve had to wrestle with for weeks,” Bauer said in response to a question about the possibility of giving the rumor more play by hosting the packed press conference. “I feel like I’ve been boxing a ghost … I would like to be president of the United States. But not at the expense of having the record I have as a father and as a husband being undermined by this kind of just-ridiculous charge.”

Recent developments have lent credence to the charge, however, including the exodus of campaign aides from the Bauer ranks. When former Bauer national chairman Charles Jarvis resigned in mid-September, Bauer’s aides started speculating that his departure had something to do with the rumors. Jarvis and Bauer had been friends for 16 years, sharing the same conservative Christian beliefs; before joining the campaign, Jarvis had served as executive vice president of Dobson’s socially conservative Focus on the Family.

In the internal campaign memo announcing his departure, which was released to the media, Jarvis wrote that he was leaving the campaign because he didn’t think Bauer had a chance to win. But some people close to the campaign say that rationale just doesn’t add up.

“Jarvis is a true-believer Christian activist — these are the kinds of people who think ‘pragmatism’ is a dirty word,” says a Bauer campaign source. “For him to say he’s leaving because Bauer doesn’t have a chance to win doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”

Besides Jarvis, media consultant Tom Edmonds has left Bauer’s campaign, as has Bauer’s secretary of 15 years, Betty Barrett. Jarvis, Edmonds and Barrett all declined to comment.

In a chicken-or-the-egg retread, the exodus of aides was one of the factors that brought the wholly unsubstantiated rumor into public discourse. The original New York Daily News report had the unnamed candidate “praying that a former secretary doesn’t go public with her claim that he’s been having an affair with a twentysomething woman.” The item also hinted that many on the unnamed candidate’s staff were “already jumping ship.” It was this point that first brought Bauer’s name into the gossip when Imus asked Fineman: “What candidate has been losing aides?” and Fineman mentioned Jarvis.

Some say that the resignations have more to do with Bauer’s harsh persona than with his sexual persona. “There’s a lot of people who aren’t happy,” says the Bauer campaign source. “It has a lot to do with [Bauer's] personality. He’s just never happy, never satisfied. He doesn’t believe his team is doing enough for him. He says, ‘What’s wrong with these people?’ He can’t grasp that he only has 5 percent name recognition. He’s totally unrealistic.”

Near the end of the 45-minute press conference, Bauer was asked which offended him more, “the rumors about your personal life or some of the more borderline anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic things [GOP rival] Pat Buchanan has said.” In recent days, GOP candidates Forbes, Elizabeth Dole and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have all condemned Buchanan’s new book, “A Republic, Not An Empire,” in which he argues that the United States had no compelling reason to fight the Nazis in World War II, and that Jews exert undue influence in American politics.

“Well, the thing that bothers me the most, of course, is any personal attacks on my honor or my character or my family,” Bauer said. “I think any human being would react that way. I’m not going to comment on your characterization of Pat Buchanan’s views. But I have spoken out my entire life on bigotry of all sorts.

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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