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#MeToo upheaval compels presidential candidates to express regrets about sexual misconduct cases

Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

As he prepares to run for president, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock looks back with regret for not recognizing the gravity of a top aide's sexual harassment of a colleague.

After he was fired, the adviser went to work for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and was soon accused of harassing two more women. Bullock now says he's "deeply sorry" he never told de Blasio about his aide's misbehavior.

"I was wrong and naive to think I did enough," Bullock, a Democrat, wrote Feb. 2 in a blog post.

Kamala Harris has similar regrets. So do Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

The 2020 presidential race is the first to occur since the #MeToo movement changed the nation's cultural and political climate. Democratic contenders are already struggling to control the damage from their own shortcomings in policing sexual harassment in the workplace.

"You can say you support #MeToo, and you can say you support women, but you have to be able to demonstrate that in your own organization and in your own behavior," said Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics.

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"I don't think we're going to see all of a sudden a wholesale overturning of the allowances that we've given to folks for this type of behavior, or not acting significantly to stop this behavior in the past. But I do think the bar is higher."

Cold political math is at least part of what's drawing heightened attention to sexual misconduct: Women consistently turn out to vote in larger numbers than men. In the White House race, Democrats face pressure to nominate a candidate who can draw a strong contrast with Trump. A Democrat who is perceived as not dealing with sexual harassment seriously could have a hard time attacking the president over allegations by multiple women that Trump sexually assaulted them.

The accusations, which Trump denies, have not caused diehard supporters to desert him, but the president remains highly unpopular among women in general.

For Harris, the issue has become fraught since The Sacramento Bee revealed in December that California paid $400,000 to settle a lawsuit over alleged sexual harassment by Larry Wallace, one of her closest aides for 14 years.

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