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Democrats React with Dismay To Morris Affair with Prostitute

By Kevin Merida
The Washington Post
CHICAGO

First there was disbelief. Then anger. Then denial. Then spin.

It wasn't long before word of Dick Morris's demise reached the hotel lobbies and meeting rooms and Democratic National Convention floor at the United Center. And it wasn't long before some Democrats were suggesting deep, dark Republican conspiracies had been hatched to slow President Clinton's momentum.

"Does anybody in America believe this is happenstance timing?" asked a visibly perturbed Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. "That the story broke on this day is a coincidence? Give me a break."

It was all Democrats could do to explain away such a bizarre occurrence: On the very night that Clinton was to tell the nation why he deserves another four years in office, the convention was abuzz with the tabloid news of a sex-for-hire scandal concerning the president's chief strategist.

That Morris quickly resigned was gratifying to the assembled Democrats, many of whom said the story would soon be forgotten by a public more concerned about bread-and-butter issues. That the Morris development detracted from the most important speech of the convention, some said, was painful and troubling.

"You take the final day of the convention," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, "and instead of having a single story you have two. And that hurts. It doesn't help the campaign, and it doesn't help the convention."

"Obviously it's a problem," said Rep. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, "but I believe it will blow over."

Hart said the episode will likely cause wayward Democratic professionals - previously upset by Morris's influence with Clinton - to come to the White House's rescue. "The one thing I know about Democratic consultants," he said, "is everybody will end up pitching in. Even those who may have felt left out will end up putting their oar back in the water."

Ironically, there was a blend of muted compassion and outright contempt for Morris, whom some described Thursday as political genius and others derided as an evil Republican infiltrator.

Among the most compassionate was Jesse L. Jackson, who was quoted in USA Today this morning as calling Morris "amoral." But he was quick to clarify Thursday afternoon that he was referring to the consultant's "indifference to the poor," not his personal life.

"While I disagree with him politically," Jackson said, "I regret he fell on a sword this way. To have this embarrassment to his family. To face humiliation. This is most unfortunate."

Others were not so kind.

"If those allegations are accurate, I think he shouldn't have been given a chance to resign," said Dale Vernon, a Minnesota delegate. "He should have been fired."

The allegations, raised by the tabloid publication the Star and published in Thursday's editions of the New York Post, say that Morris had a yearlong relationship with a prostitute with whom he shared information about the president and those around Clinton.

"I never buy the Star," said Sylvia Schmidt, another Minnesota delegate. "But I guess they're going to sell a lot of copies now. It's just too bad because we're trying to do family values and it's not going to go over too well, right?"