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Accusations of sexual misconduct mar yet another political campaign

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"A good man is hard to find," sang Bessie Smith nearly a century ago. Her sentiment holds sway today when it comes to political candidates. Presidential hopeful Joe Biden is the latest to face a damaging allegation that casts a shadow over his entire career.

The accusation comes from Tara Reade, a former aide from Biden's days as a Delaware Senator in the early '90s. Reade first came forward last year, claiming Biden made her uncomfortable by touching her neck and shoulders. Last month, however, her accusation became more explicit. She now claims he pinned her to a wall in a Capitol Hill complex, digitally penetrated her, then insulted her when she pulled away.

The political fallout

The allegation puts Biden in an uncomfortable position, to put it mildly. Advocacy for women is a cornerstone of his public image. He's a vocal supporter of the #metoo movement and its corollary, #believesurvivors. He was also a chief critic of Brett Kavanaugh during the Supreme Court nomination controversy. Now, Biden finds himself on the receiving end of a similar allegation.

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Trump's campaign has seized on the opportunity to discredit his opponent. Trump himself, meanwhile, delivered surprisingly encouraging words for Biden - even appearing to sympathize with him as a fellow target of similar accusations (albeit on a much broader scale).

Unpacking Reade's story

Apart from Reade's own word, what else sheds light on the veracity of her story? Not much, at the moment. Reade's friend, former neighbor and brother have confirmed that she told them about the incident around the time it happened. Reade's mother (who has since passed away) allegedly called into the Larry King Live show in 1993, asking for advice on behalf of her daughter, who worked for an unspecified U.S. Senator. The mom (who wasn't identified on the show) talked about "problems" her daughter was facing at work. She didn't mention sexual harassment or assault.

Reade claimed to have filed a complaint against Biden soon after the incident. She later clarified that it was only a generalized "intake" form in which she didn't get into specifics. Biden has asked the National Archives to uncover any such complaint or at least confirm the existence of an intake process. So far, his request has come up empty.

Biden's response

For his part, Biden denied the incident in no uncertain terms. Many of his current and former colleagues - including his chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and campaign manager during the period in question - have rallied to his support. And one big factor falls in Biden's favor: He already underwent a thorough vetting process in 2008 when he joined Obama's ticket. A team of lawyers dug up every stone in his past and found nothing.

While this is the first public allegation against Biden, he is known for being a "hands-on" communicator - especially with women. Biden himself admitted to being a "tactile" guy.

Whom to believe?

But is that enough? When it comes to down to "he said vs. she said" allegations such as these, who bears the burden of proof in the public eye? It's a big question with no easy answers.

As is often the case with these allegations, it comes down to credibility. Whom do you believe? The presidential candidate with so much to lose? Or the woman with no apparent political motives who, nonetheless, waited until the brink of a heated election to come forward?

Voters will have their say come November. And if Trump's 2016 win is any indication, the allegation won't impede Biden's chances in the least.

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