Fallout of topless bar trip uncertain for Ore. GOP

Fallout of topless bar trip uncertain for Ore. GOP
This Feb. 1, 2012, photo shows the Oregon Pioneer statue atop the Oregon State Capitol, in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Reports that seven Republican legislators, including the House leadership team, visited a topless bar during a vacation to southern California in January come at an awkward time for Oregon Republicans, who are trying to take control of the House in November.

The story could matter to some voters, but it's not likely to sway control of the House on its own, campaign experts said Friday.

"Unless the opponents make a big deal out of it, I don't think it's going to be anything more than a very interesting August story," said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University.

The seven lawmakers, including co-Speaker Bruce Hanna and then-Republican leader Kevin Cameron, visited a bar featuring topless dancers while on a three-day golfing trip to Palm Springs, Calif., in January, according to a report from The Oregonian this week.

The trip became public in a story Thursday afternoon on the newspaper's website, two months after news broke that a former aide had accused Rep. Matt Wingard of pressuring her to have a sexual relationship. Wingard has said their relationship was consensual but announced he would not seek re-election.

The Oregonian reported that Cameron said his decision to step down last month as the No. 2 Republican in the House was prompted, in part, by threats that Wingard, who also was on the trip, would take the story of the visit to the bar public.

The other legislators reportedly on the trip were Reps. Tim Freeman of Roseburg, Vic Gilliam of Silverton, Patrick Sheehan of Clackamas, Matt Wand of Troutdale. A spokesman for House Republicans said none of them dispute reports that they were on the trip.

No tax dollars or campaign money were spent on the trip.

The long-term resonance of the issue will depend on whether Democrats decide to make a big deal out of it, said Len Bergstein, a lobbyist and former political consultant who worked for Democrats. Modern campaigns have become adept at using the Internet to drive negative coverage if they want to, he said, but there's always a risk of alienating voters if they don't buy the argument.

"To run a whole campaign around it would be silly," Bergstein said. "But to say it amounts to nothingburger would be silly too ... It's not the main thing that most people will decide who they cast their vote for, but it's something."

Rep. Tina Kotek of Portland, the Democratic leader who's in charge of her party's campaign effort, wasn't available to discuss whether Democrats would press the issue, a spokesman said.

The House is evenly split between the two major parties, which have 30 members each, and both are fighting aggressively to win at least one seat. When one party has a majority, it wields significant power to push its agenda and block legislation promoted by opponents.

"Throughout this entire election cycle, our candidates have been focused on the issues that Oregonians care about and will continue to talk about the economy, about education, and at the end of the day the voters will decide," said Nick Smith, a spokesman for the House Republicans.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.