Gary Bauer, a former Reagan administration official and a spokesman for the religious right, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was the target of a malicious rumour that has surfaced in the press. "What presidential candidate is praying that a former secretary doesn't go public with her claim that he's been having an affair with a twentysomething woman? Many on the married Republican's campaign staff are already jumping ship," said an article in the New York Daily News.
"I think it's supposed to be me. And it's disgusting. It almost makes me physically sick," Mr Bauer said. "My wife and I have been married for 27 years. We have three children. I have been loyal to her, and she's been loyal to me all those years. And it is depressing that in American politics, this sort of thing can be elevated to even that rung." Mr Bauer is perhaps the least likely target for a rumour about sexual misbehaviour, and his sudden comments came as a surprise.
"I think it's coming from the camp of one of my political opponents," Mr Bauer said. But he is by no means the only candidate fending off rumours. George W Bush, the leading Republican candidate, is also tackling the difficult subject of how he came to be in the Texas Air National Guard, and not in Vietnam, during his military service.
Mr Bush was given a helping hand in joining the Texas Air National Guard, a leading former Texas politician has said, which in turn helped to make sure that he did not have to serve in Vietnam. The statement from Ben Barnes, former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, adds to the picture of establishment support for the young Mr Bush, though it is by no means a serious blow to him.
Mr Barnes said that he called General James Rose, head of the Air National Guard at the time, prompted by a conversation with a Texas businessman, Sid Adger, not by any pressure from the Bush family itself. Mr Adger was also a close friend of George Bush senior, the former President. But if there is any more to the affair, it is unlikely to become public: Mr Adger and General Rose are dead. And Mr Bush says that no impropriety took place. "I am proud of my service.... I don't believe I received any special treatment," he said on Monday.