A spate of sexual misconduct accusations against U.S. politicians and other powerful men will force candidates for the November 2018 congressional elections to weigh more carefully than ever whether their past behavior could doom their chances.
Following allegations against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, Democratic U.S. Representative John Conyers and Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken, campaign operatives from both parties warned that past behavior that might once have been excused may now be disqualifying.
"This is a game-changer," said Democratic strategist Dane Strother. "Every man who wants to run for office needs to give some serious thought to his past."
Politicians have been among a growing number of prominent men, including in the entertainment and media fields, accused of sexual harassment.
There will be increased pressure on candidates to undertake "self-vetting," where, as one Republican strategist said, they are willing to subject themselves to a "trial on what the other side will put them through."
But he cautioned: "A lot of this is still dependent on what the candidate is willing to talk about and how forthcoming they are."
In next year's elections, Democrats will seek to wrest one or both houses of Congress from Republican control. Thirty-three U.S. Senate seats and all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be contested.
Sex scandals have long been a part of U.S. politics, but in the current environment, operatives are encouraging candidates and office-holders alike to level with advisers about past conduct, even behavior that might in the past have fallen into a gray area.
"You may have to press the candidate particularly aggressively to be sure that he confronts what he may have passed off as a failed advance and not have imagined would come back to haunt him," a veteran Democratic lawyer who advises campaigns told Reuters.