Voters victimized by sex and politics

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2020

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While many were startled by the breaking news this past weekend regarding U.S. Senate hopeful Cal Cunningham confirming he had exchanged several sexually related texts with a woman who isn’t his wife, I wasn’t among those caught off guard.

Extramarital affairs are commonplace across the nation and the world. They happen every day, but don’t become headline news unless those involved are in the public’s eye. And there’s nothing more public than the events leading up to a hotly-contested election. What Cal Cunningham admitted to has happened before and it led to the downfall of those candidates.

Does anyone remember Gary Hart….a charismatic candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for President in 1988? He was considered the front-runner before accusations began flying around that he was having an extramarital affair.

Hart, of course, denied the accusation and perhaps would have wiggled his way out of this mess, but it all backfired when a newspaper photo was published showing a female sitting on his lap. We all know that Mr. Hart wasn’t dressed as Santa Claus when that famous photo was snapped.

He dropped out of the race and other than two special assignments (Special Envoy for Northern Ireland and Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council – appointed to both positions during the Obama presidency) was never heard from again.

Another rising star whose political ambitions for the White House was former U.S. Senator John Edwards. The North Carolina Democrat was seeking to become President in 2008, but that bid came to a screeching halt when it was learned that he fathered the child of a campaign staffer.

Like Gary Hart, Edwards denied the accusation of having an affair, and then said the child wasn’t his. But he later confessed to both, thus ending his promising political career.

Now, Cunningham is caught in the middle of the political crosshairs.

At some point in the recent months, Cunningham sent and received what are sexually suggestive texts to the wife of a retired U.S. Army veteran. It is not known how or when Cunningham met Arlene Todd, the woman to which the texts were sent and she responded. Todd currently lives in Chino, CA where she works as Media Director for a marijuana lobbying firm.

In one text to Todd, Cunningham says, “And you are historically sexy.” Todd responds, “When can I see you…I want to kiss you.”

In a later text, Todd is apparently attempting to meet Cunningham as she writes, “Pick a day, city, make up an excuse for the fam.”

“So the only thing I want on my to do list is you,” she wrote in another text, to which Cunningham replies, “Sounds so hot and so fun!”

This exchange makes me nauseous in three ways…first as a married man myself who is faithful to his wife; secondly as the recipient of so many personal donation requests from the Cunningham campaign; and last, but not least, he is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve while Mrs. Todd’s husband once proudly served our nation in the Army as well.

As for the donation thing, it needs to be pointed out that someone is footing the bill for Cunningham to unseat incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis. Records show that, to date, over $60 million has been spent on advertising and other campaign related expenses to get Cunningham elected.

And as for the military connection, Cunningham, in some of his TV ads, promotes his years of military service, which I personally thank him for. However, some of those ads weave a warm, caring story about how he will help military veterans. Given the fact that he has admitted to sharing affections with the wife of an Army veteran, if that’s how he aims to “help” them then I would refuse the offer if I had once worn the colors of our nation’s military.

As of writing this column on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 4), Cunningham, who publicly apologized to his family, friends, and supporters, has vowed not to drop out of the race.

“I remain grateful and humbled by the ongoing support that North Carolinians have extended in this campaign, and in the remaining weeks before this election I will continue to work to earn the opportunity to fight for the people of our state,” he said in a statement.

Should he change his mind and exit the race, the real disservice is left on the shoulders of those who have already cast a ballot in Cunningham’s favor. I read somewhere over the weekend that in excess of 300,000 mail-in absentee ballots have been cast and are currently in the hands of county election boards across our state, waiting to be counted. If he drops out, those who voted for him are powerless to change it.

In times like these, it’s in a voter’s best interest to wait as long as possible to cast a ballot. You never know who may be the next victim of sex and politics.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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