Traffic is the new sex.
Stick with me. Sen. David Vitter, who recently announced that he is running for governor of Louisiana in 2015, is ahead in a recent poll. You may recall Vitter's apology in 2007 after his phone number surfaced during an investigation of the prostitution ring run by the "D.C. Madam," Deborah Jeane Palfrey. The details of his dalliances involved infant wear. He said he committed "a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible."
His lead in the polls is in keeping with other comebacks by officials caught in sexual scandals. After his own prostitution scandal, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer got a television show and ran a creditable race for New York City comptroller.
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford survived his attempt to cover up his infidelity with a lie about hiking the Appalachian trail and was returned to Congress. Bill Clinton, who was impeached for his transgressions, left office with a 68 percent approval rating.
Compare that with the fate of politicians involved in traffic scandals. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the subject of multiple investigations for the epic gridlock on the George Washington Bridge. Just 35 percent of Americans see the governor favorably, down from 52 percent in a Gallup poll in June. He's gone from a 32-point net positive rating last summer to a 5-point net negative now. Before Bridgegate, he topped many of the polls about potential Republican presidential candidates. A Washington Post/ABC poll puts him in third place now.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia also has seen voters tap the brakes over his traffic record. Deal was a shoo-in for re-election until "Snowjam '14" (it's never good for a catastrophe to get a name) created a crushing traffic jam on the interstate. Deal was missing in action as the snow began to pile up, and he initially blamed poor weather forecasting for the failure to clear roads or stagger closings so that everyone wasn't hitting the freeway at the same time.
The overnight crisis - a baby was born on the interstate, people were trapped overnight in their cars while their children slept at school - attracted national attention. On NBC, Al Roker scolded Deal for calling the storm a surprise when all he needed to do was turn on the TV to find out it was headed his way.
Now the people of Georgia are ticked off at Deal, who was lunching with the mayor of Atlanta when both should have been glued to the Weather Channel. A survey showed 1 out of 3 people blamed Deal, not Mother Nature, for the traffic nightmare. In a statewide poll, 57 percent of Republicans rated Deal poor to fair.
According to Public Policy Polling, while Deal still holds a lead over his likely opponents who haven't yet begun to advertise, only 36 percent of voters approve of Deal and 41 percent disapprove, a terrible place for an incumbent to be.
He would have been better off having lunch with a hooker. Just ask Senator Vitter.
Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.