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Are Husbands the Achilles Heel for Female Candidates?

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There's an argument to be made that Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama not because the media is sexist but because enough people were worried about how Bill Clinton would comport himself as the First Laddie.

Now, in today's must-read New York Times article, comes news that Todd Palin, the "first dude" of Alaska, may have played a key role in sparking the Troopergate investigation that could further hobble his wife's vice-presidential candidacy.

The scandal, in a nutshell, happened this way: in 2005, Sarah Palin's sister, Molly McCann, filed for divorce from an Alaskan state trooper named Mike Wooten. She also got a restraining order, though Wooten apparently never physically harmed her. But the family reported him for shooting a female moose, Tasering his 10-year-old stepson (!), and drinking while driving in his patrol car.

The department eventually responded to these accusations by giving Wooten a five-day suspension, which seems to have struck the Palins as unnaturally lenient. In 2007, shortly after his wife became governor, Todd Palin met with Wooten's boss, Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, to complain about the soft punishment. "Todd was clearly frustrated," said Monegan, who took no additional disciplinary action.

The first dude soon found a new charge to level against Wooten: that he had lied about an on-the-job back injury to collect insurance. But the department dismissed the claim after Wooten's chiropractor wrote a letter in his patient's defense.

Sarah Palin may have been the prime mover in all this, but Todd appears to have been the designated pitbull. He recently stated in a sworn affidavit that he had spoken about Wooten hundreds of times, "with my family, with friends, with colleagues and with just about everyone I could, including government officials.... In fact, I talked about Wooten so much over the years that my wife told me to stop talking about it with her."

I bet his wife now wishes she'd told him to stop talking about it, period. After she fired Monegan, a political rival turned blogger raised the question of whether it had been revenge for the commissioner's protection of Wooten (who, hilariously, remains a patrol trooper to this day). And so began Troopergate.

The reason for Monegan's removal has always been hazy. At first, he was told that Palin simply wanted to move things in a "new direction." Later, under pressure, her office cited a variety of rationales, including an "intolerable pattern of insubordination."

It's possible that Palin had legitimate reasons to fire Monegan. But the fact that her husband, by his own admission, had spent years obsessively focused on Trooper Wooten opened her up to the kind of criticism she's now enduring. And if she really did fire Monegan over the Wooten situation, Todd's ham-fisted campaign made obvious what, in the hands of a more skillful politician, would have remained impossible to verify. (Call me Machiavellian, but I consider it a valuable political skill to know how to stab someone in the back without leaving fingerprints.)

Which brings us back to an argument that became familiar during the Democratic primary: what are we to think about a candidate who can't or won't effectively control her spouse?

Or, to put it another way: Is it sexist to fear that behind many successful women, there's a worryingly meddlesome man?

This originally appeared on vanityfair.com

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