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Sex and politics

Tables turn on Gingrich . . . Gore just can't find good help . . . GAO not sweet on domestic sugar.

Washington just can't get away from sex.

Despite the high-minded talk of getting back to the "issues" after impeachment, the buzz in the capital these days is all about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's reported longtime affair with a congressional staffer 20 years his junior.

The tabloids and late-night comedians have been going wild over the Georgia Republican's widely reported liaison with Callista Bisek, 33, a House Agriculture Committee aide.

The revelation comes a month after Gingrich filed for divorce from his wife of 18 years, Marianne. Gingrich's first marriage, to his former high school geometry teacher, also ended in divorce.

Now, Marianne Gingrich wants to know all about her estranged husband's extramarital activities; she recently won a judge's permission to depose the 5-foot-8 blond Bisek in what is likely a prelude to the inevitable battle over divvying up marital assets.

"Marianne is prepared to thoroughly investigate Mr. Gingrich's personal life as well as his business activities," her lawyer, John C. Mayoue, told the New York Daily News.

The charges may also reinforce a perception that Republican congressmen have been hypocritical in their pursuit of President Clinton.

Gingrich's relationship was apparently ongoing during Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky and the subsequent uproar. Gingrich, 53, had called loudly for Clinton's conviction in the Senate on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Trouble in Gore camp

Poor Al Gore. To Washington operatives, his campaign seems to be lurching about like some sort of political Frankenstein's monster. A misstep last week by his campaign press secretary, Roger Salazar, hasn't helped reverse the impression.

Salazar mistakenly told the Des Moines Register that the vice president opposes federal funding of abortion through Medicaid, the government health program for the poor. Gore's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, hit hard.

"It took the vice president's staff four days to research his record," Bradley said in a statement. "That would not be necessary with me because my record on reproductive rights is quite clear."

Gore was said to be furious at the error. There was speculation that heads would roll _ namely, Salazar's _ except that a further staff shake-up now is probably not in the Gore campaign's interest.

His longtime media adviser, Bob Squier, has complained on the front page of the New York Times about Gore's hiring of Squier's former protege-turned-bitter enemy, Carter Eskew. Gore's chief of staff, Ron Klain, recently departed amid rumors of tensions with Tony Coelho, the disgraced former House Democratic leader who resigned from Congress 10 years ago amid ethics charges and is now running Gore's campaign.

Gore is facing a surprisingly strong challenge from Bradley, a former New York Knicks basketball star. Seasoned political pros have said Gore needs to develop a better stump speech and impose more discipline on his expensive and top-heavy campaign.

Sour report on sugar

U.S. Sugar Corp. of Clewiston is angry about a new General Accounting Office report that concludes domestic sugar prices are artificially high and calls for the importation of more cheap foreign sugar.

"This report is designed to help line the pockets of large candy manufacturers at the expense of thousands of farm jobs across America," says a news release from U.S. Sugar.

The GAO report was requested by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. George Miller, both California Democrats. Congress perennially squabbles over tariffs on foreign sugar and support for the domestic industry, based largely in Florida.

Opponents of sugar growers say that the industry is polluting the Everglades and that consumers are better off paying less for foreign sugar. Domestic sugar producers argue that U.S. jobs will be lost without protections; they say large candy manufacturers and cerealmakers are the real forces lobbying for more cheap foreign sugar.

_ Compiled by Times staff writer Mary Jacoby. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.