Summer Stories

watching tv and campaign ads
In her latest Political Points commentary, CBS News Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch takes a look at the hot political stories to watch this summer.

The Fourth of July is upon us and so are the stories of summer. For the last few years, they have been dominated by sex and murder – O.J., Chandra, Monica. This year we're seeing ethics, greed and God popping up along with the usual sex and sex crimes, plus a good fish story. The cable shows and tabloids will have a field day with these, and so will political campaigns, which have to struggle for attention during the hot, lazy months.

Here are a few summer stories to keep an eye on:

  • Greed: It's back. Enron had just about faded, although the "Women of Enron" edition of Playboy is into full disclosure. WorldCom has taken over with its multibillion-dollar accounting scandal. Democrats, who pined for a "big corporations hurting the little guy" theme for this year's elections, now have another shot. In Texas, Republican Attorney General John Cornyn, who is running for Senate, abandoned plans for a fund-raiser at the home of WorldCom COO Ron Beaumont and launched an investigation instead. In Washington, there were also some awkward WorldCom moments for Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who received contributions of $23,000 and $14,000, respectively, from the telecommunications giant for their Senate campaigns.
  • Ethics: Sen. Bob Torricelli, D-N.J., has replaced Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, as the poster boy for the ethically challenged. "The Torch," as Torricelli is affectionately dubbed, was cleared of criminal violations (although he admitted some mistakes) earlier this year and some of the bigger GOP names (Tom Kean, Christie Todd Whitman) declined to run against him. But he now has an opponent in rich businessman Doug Forrester and the Republicans are salivating at the prospect of reminding folks of all of those mistakes.
  • Ethics 2: Martha Stewart had raised some money over the years for Democratic candidates and even cooked in her kitchen with some of them. Louisiana Democratic Rep. Billy Tauzin made gumbo with Martha while he was plugging his Cajun cookbook, "Cook and Tell." Now he's investigating insider trading at Imclone, the same company she's in hot water with over questionable stock sales. A recipe for political problems?
  • Sex: Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., a former Baptist minister and graduate of Bob Jones University, dumped his wife of 29 years and married a pretty young staffer. This happened two years ago but the story won't go away. It is, of course, Arkansas. Some Republican women even got Dr. Laura Schlessinger into Arkansas to vouch for Hutchinson, but that only revived the story and tickled Clinton-weary Democrats when she suggested there were certain things that shouldn't be talked about.
  • Sex Crimes/Missing Girls: Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush has come under attack for his handling of the state's Department of Children and Families in the wake of the disappearance of 5-year-old Riyla Wilson. Meanwhile, his brother George will soon be missing his senior girl, Karen Hughes. What will Karen do? What does this mean for Karl, Dan, Ken and Mary? What does this say about women in power? All questions over which the beltway will obsess.
  • Adultery: Donna Hanover is still on Rudy Giuliani's case. Last week, she charged the former New York City mayor with "open and notorious adultery." Even though he's temporarily out of office, Giuliani has become every Republican candidate's "best get" for fund-raising and free media. He became a national icon after 911, but can Hanover bring him back to the gutter?
  • Fish Story: Summer isn't really summer without a good fish story. This year's concerns the snakehead fish now stalking the Maryland waters. It's not as grizzly as last summer's killer shark stories, but (at least for us who live on the Chesapeake) it's very menacing. The fish can live and move on land, and, back in the water, eat every other fish in sight. There's a big debate about how to get rid of them. There's also a xenophobic angle to this story. Wildlife experts believe the fish may have been released into the water by some Asian residents who like their taste; they're considered a delicacy in China and Korea. Will Kathleen Kennedy Townsend send her lieutenant governor pick, four-star Admiral Charles Lawson, off to fight the snakeheads? Will her gubernatorial opponent, Republican Bob Erlich, blame them on too many years of Democrats in the statehouse? Stay tuned.
  • God: Last week was a good week for God. After all the focus on the sex crimes of the Catholic Church, the religious story finally turned positive. The U.S. Supreme Court declared school vouchers constitutional, but it was that Pledge of Allegiance decision that really got the politicians and the media in a lather. Such a simple story, such an easy answer. Of course, to be a really great summer story it should have played out a little longer and had little children hauled off to jail for invoking God. But a Nixon-appointed judge listened to the yelps and stayed the order.

    With stories like these on the horizon, who says summer politics will be dull?