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'Sexual Purity' Test Likely To Face Future Presidential Candidates

WASHINGTON - Nobody can guess all the issues likely to figure in the next presidential race, except for one: Candidates to succeed Bill Clinton are all sure to face a "sexual purity" test, according to James Carville. That will be the legacy of independent counsel Kenneth Starr, said Carville, a key strategist in Clinton's capture of the White House in 1992. Whatever the outcome of Starr's investigation of Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, American politics have taken a turn down a treacherous road and "there is no pulling back now," Carville said Tuesday at a breakfast with reporters. Other political analysts tend to agree, although some say the legacy is as much Clinton's as Starr's. "I guarantee you the net result of all this is that in the year 2000, everybody's sex life is going to be fair game," Carville said. "No matter what comes out with Starr, every entity and news organization is going to say we have to have an aggressive investigation into any candidate's sexual past so it doesn't come back to haunt them and distract them once they are president." Carville has long been a vociferous critic of Starr, but his view of the consequences of the independent counsel's investigation is shared by professor Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia and the author of "Feeding Frenzy," a book that analyzes news media behavior in scandals involving public officials. Sabato said an intensified focus on the sexual behavior of candidates for president in 2000 is inevitable, despite Clinton's denial that he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. But morality is hardly a new feature of presidential politics, Sabato notes, recalling that Democrat Gary Hart was forced out of the race for his party's nomination in 1987 when his extramarital relationship with model Donna Rice became Page 1 news. "It was no accident that a Michael Dukakis, a Mr. Clean, got that nomination and that Bill Clinton stayed out of that race," Sabato said. Similarly, in 2000, candidates who might have something to hide will choose not to run because of the heightened sensitivity of the sex issue, Sabato said. "Those who do run will have to either be lucky or cleaner than a hound's tooth, one or the other." Bill Dal Col, a political adviser to publisher Steve Forbes, a once and future Republican presidential contender, also predicts candidates will face tougher interrogation about highly personal matters. "I believe the current atmosphere raises the bar for the next election, and clearly candidates are going to have to be prepared to come under close scrutiny much earlier in the process than has occurred in the past," he said. Reporters will start asking "deeper, more penetrating, probing questions" of candidates entering the primary process, the kind of questions usually reserved for the final nominees, he said. But the nation could reject an era of bluenose politics, according to Charles Black, a veteran Republican campaign strategist. "It depends on what happens to Clinton," Black said. "If Clinton were to go down and get kicked out of office, which I don't expect to happen, then these kinds of questions will be big issues. If, on the other hand, it is perceived that Clinton got away with little or no political damage, then it helps take this kind of stuff off the chart. "If he escapes, the press will think they went too far, that maybe he didn't do anything wrong. If Clinton paid no price, how can they ask other candidates those questions?" RH END BENSON

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