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Times That Try Men’s Jowls

Well, if the Republican establishment didn’t have enough problems already with likely presidential nominee John McCain, enter a 40-year-old blond lobbyist named Vicki Iseman. As the Times reported yesterday (with the Post following shortly afterwards), Iseman eight years ago became a regular prop aside the Arizona senator at fundraisers, congressional gatherings and numerous other events. Fearing the relationship had become romantic, McCain’s aides sought to distance Iseman from the 2000 presidential hopeful, the reports claim. Both McCain and Iseman deny that romance entered the relationship, but ask Gary Hart how quickly the press is to forget twiggy blonds when they become entangled with presidential candidates and you may get some sense of what McCain is facing in the coming days.

The 71-year-old took the podium this morning with another bombshell — his wife Cindy — to deny that his close relationship with Iseman had any undue influence over the then-Commerce Committee chairman regarding her clients. “Obviously, people who represent interests are fine,” said McCain, who has spent a career in Washington skewering people who represent interests.

Plus he missed the point: This is a sex scandal, John, not a lobbying scandal. To say that money influences politicians is like saying that greed powers Wall Street: Both are true, and no one cares in either case. Sex, on the other hand, people get wild for.

McCain was also quick to dismiss the story because it came from the Times — an unsubtle shout out to the conservative base he’s been trying to win over as the Straight- Talk Express makes its rounds, at times becoming a little too straight talk for the likes of James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh (think: immigration, campaign finance, and opposition to Bush’s tax cuts). But to convince America’s evangelical hordes — whose raison d’etre was pretty much solidified in the wake of the Monica Lewinski scandal — that he remains their man in the wake of the Iseman scandal, McCain may first have to convince his wife. As a colleague pointed out: As the couple walked from the podium this morning, Cindy kept a full foot between them, and the thought of taking his hand seemed the furthest thing from her mind.

But that’s for Cindy and John to work out with their gods and estate lawyers. The larger question — the one facing the Republican Party — remains: What the hell do we do now with Romney out, Huckabee hanging on like a nag, and the frontrunner embroiled in a sex scandal? McCain was expected to have the 1,191 delegates needed to take the nomination following the March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont. So certain was a McCain victory that observers are questioning why Huckabee has hung around at all. Now the better question might be: Why did Romney drop out?

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