Features

So far, so good

National | Still tense after denying an affair, Bauer receives a warm welcome from Christian activists

Issue: "Can the boom last?," Oct. 16, 1999

in Washington - Gary Bauer is hardly a timid speaker. After a decade at the helm of the Family Research Council and roughly eight months on the presidential campaign stump, he's used to delivering the kind of impassioned stem-winder that almost always brings a Republican crowd to its feet. Still, as he neared the end of his speech to the 3,000 delegates gathered in Washington for the Christian Coalition's recent Road to Victory conference, he was oddly nervous. Though few in the audience knew it, the future of his campaign rode on the crowd's reaction. Just 48 hours earlier, he had stared down a phalanx of television cameras to angrily deny rumors of an affair with a 27-year-old campaign aide. It was the kind of rumor that could sink the campaign of a Christian conservative, and he knew it. Did his supporters believe him? Would they stand behind him? The speech at the Washington Hilton would be his first big test. "I thought today, this [speech] would be a good marker," he told WORLD shortly after the appearance. "If this audience had been subdued or cool in their response, I think it would have been a very clear message that this vicious attack could not be recovered from." Instead of a cool reception, Mr. Bauer received thunderous applause and several standing ovations. Indeed, his speech was one of the best received of the entire two-day event. His staff was clearly relieved. They seemed to have dodged a bullet. Yet the campaign continued to limp along under a cloud. On Oct. 5, another staffer called it quits, for a total of 10 resignations in five weeks. With nearly half of his 25 Washington employees heading for the exits, Mr. Bauer announced three important new appointments: a trio of FRC board members who originally came to Washington to look into the allegations of an affair. "[They] pored over the operating procedures in the campaign, our travel procedures, and so on," Mr. Bauer said. "At the end of that process, there was unanimity that we were OK, that there was nothing there." Despite the clean bill of health, cosmetic changes were forthcoming. In addition to joining the campaign, the three FRC board members formed an accountability group for Mr. Bauer, who later announced that he was ordering a glass door for his office in suburban Washington. Many former campaign workers wondered why such changes hadn't been made months ago, when they first started expressing discomfort over the role of the young female staffer. But Mr. Bauer insists he got no such advice from the people who mattered most: "When I went home and shared this with [my wife] Carol and [eldest daughter] Elise, if either of them had said, 'Dad, you've got to stop having those meetings,' that would have been the end of it that day. I mean, what my wife perceives, what my daughters perceive, is obviously going to direct how I handle myself more than, you know, a campaign staff member's advice." Indeed, the advice of staff members seemed to matter relatively little. Numerous campaign sources told WORLD they had expressed their frustrations and misgivings to Mr. Bauer as early as June or July. But only when rumors started to leak beyond campaign headquarters was any action taken: The accountability group was established just days before the press conference, and the glass door was announced a week later. By that time, the affair rumor was all but dead. Some questioned why it had been raised in the first place, since Mr. Bauer's most outspoken critic, former campaign chief Charlie Jarvis, had never accused him of having an affair. Rather, as Mr. Jarvis tried repeatedly to explain to the mainstream media, the real issue was one of Christian testimony and attempting to live above reproach. Mr. Bauer says he has always tried to do just that, "But I'm hard-pressed to think that-as long as I'm not being reckless-that somehow I can't have a professional woman on my team or I can't have them in trusted positions of advice-giving. That just doesn't make much sense to me." Based on the response to his speech at the Road to Victory conference, Mr. Bauer concluded it didn't make sense to a lot of Christian voters, either. By the time he left the Washington Hilton, he was guardedly optimistic about the campaign's future. "I don't know what God will do with it. Maybe, um, maybe I'm not supposed to be president. But God can also take a bad thing and use it for His purposes. So we'll just have to wait and see."

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