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Political Earthquake

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By Karin Caifa in Washington, D.C.

Those who follow politics - especially native New Yorkers like myself - were stunned by today's news of allegations that Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer was involved in a prostitution ring. The shockwaves set off by the New York governor, also a Hillary Clinton superdelegate, would reverberate through the Democratic race for the White House.

Elected by a landslide margin in 2006, Spitzer swept into Albany on his record as the state's aggressive Attorney General. During his tenure in that office between 1998 and 2006, he took on Wall Street, the insurance industry, and organized crime.

After the allegations surfaced this afternoon, Spitzer appeared at a news conference and offered an apology to his family and to the public for what he described as, "a private matter," but did not elaborate on how he had violated their trust.

The Republican Governor's Association jumped on the news immediately, calling on Spitzer to resign. "The American people are tired of corrupt and hypocritical politicians," said RGA Executive Director Nick Ayers in a statement. The Republican party, however, would not benefit from a special election. The New York State Constitution dictates that the lieutenant governor step up and fill the term of a governor who departs office early.

Whether the Obama camp will jump on Clinton for the company she keeps, in the same way she has criticized Obama for his ties to indicted Chicago political fundraiser Tony Rezko, remains to be seen. Such accusations would not play well with Obama's strategy of a politics of hope, but Clinton's victories last Tuesday forced the Democratic race into a new phase. 

Clinton, arriving in Pennsylvania for a series of campaign events late this afternoon, declined to comment on the Spitzer matter, only to wish the governor and his family well.

Despite giving Clinton his support, Spitzer hasn't been out on the trail for her all that much. In late February, Spitzer participated in a campaign conference call, along with fellow Governors Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ted Strickland of Ohio, highlighting Clinton's economic record. Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, an African-American, has accompanied of Clinton on the trail, most notably in the final days before the Iowa caucuses and during the lead-up to the South Carolina primary.

This isn't the first time that Spitzer has played an indirect role in the presidential race. Many point to Clinton's perceived "flip-flop" last fall on a Spitzer proposal to offer driver's licenses to illegal immigrants as the beginning of a downturn for her campaign. Backlash from New Yorkers and from opponents across the country eventually forced Spitzer to drop the plan, but Clinton's campaign never regained the aura of inevitability previously enjoyed.

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