Bob Packwood is out to test a theory: If President Clinton can survive - even thrive under - an avalanche of sex-related accusations, then maybe the political climate has changed enough for Packwood to seek redemption.
The former Republican senator from Oregon, who resigned in disgrace three years ago over accusations of sexual misconduct and efforts to cover them up, says he is thinking about running for office again - not the U.S. Senate, where he represented Oregon for 27 years, but perhaps the state Legislature in 2000.He has already begun raising his profile in Oregon, making speeches and attending fund-raisers. He received a standing ovation at the recent Dorchester Conference, an annual Republican gathering.
This week, while Congress is in recess and he can take off from his job in Washington as a lobbyist, he plans to give four speeches in Portland and to tour an Oregon factory.
In this post-Paula Jones world, attention is slowly creeping his way. Bob Dole, his longtime friend and the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, has suggested that Packwood be reinstated.
"I haven't concluded anything, and I won't until I have some sense of the reaction," Packwood said in an interview in his Washington office. "The only way you can know is to go back and go around the state as if you were a candidate."
He added: "Maybe at the end of it you say, `The climate is there,' but you decide not to do it. Or maybe at the end of it you say, `The climate isn't there.' What you have to be devilishly careful about is not fooling yourself."
Packwood kept mum on Clinton's travails and refused to revisit his own case.
But he clearly has been in awe of Clinton's Houdini-like ability to slip the chains of sex scandals, and he has tried before to piggyback on Clinton into a state of political grace.
In a 1994 essay titled "Bill and Me," Packwood wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "President Clinton says that he does not remember his accuser, Paula Jones. I can understand that." He blamed his own woes on a shifting "mood of the day" and the lack of a statute of limitations, noting that 17 of the 22 accusations against him arose from incidents that were at least a decade old.