Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Mike Taylor's sudden departure from the race, a move that he said was sparked by a Democratic Party ad portraying him as gay, ranked as the top Montana news story of 2002, according to the Associated Press. Taylor stunned even longtime political observers when, with just a month left before the November 6 general election, he announced that he was suspending his campaign against incumbent Democratic senator Max Baucus.
At an emotional news conference, Taylor said his decision was sparked by a Democratic Party ad that detailed student loan problems at a beauty school he operated in the 1990s. Taylor saw a more insidious message in the commercial, however, which he said included 20-year-old video of him massaging a man's face on a TV news show to make him look as if he were a gay hairdresser. Democrats denied the allegation, but Taylor said the damage was so severe and the tone of the campaign so nasty that he wanted out. Democrats said Taylor left because he was trailing by more than 30 points in the polls. Two weeks later, however, Taylor returned to the race, although with very limited campaigning, saying his focus was on "getting the slander out of Montana politics." Baucus soundly defeated him in the election.