As 25 Candidates Face Sexual Misconduct Allegations, Women Are Making It A Campaign Issue
Most of the federal lawmakers who've been accused of sexual misconduct aren't running for reelection post-#MeToo — but it's a different story on the state level. Of the past and present state lawmakers who are running again for office, 25 candidates have been accused of sexual misconduct, and over half of them are already guaranteed to be on the ballot in November, according to the AP. Despite this, many female candidates are making harassment and assault key issues in their midterms campaigns.
Seven of the candidates accused of sexual misconduct ran unopposed in their primaries. Fifteen are already headed to the general election. Rep. Don Shooter (R-AZ) is one of the most prominent members of the 25. He was forced out of office in February after an investigation concluded that he'd harassed multiple women over a period of years (he denied some of the allegations and declined to comment on others), but now he's back and running again. According to him, "I've learned some lessons and I'm ready to serve."
Rep. Jeff Hoover (R-KY) resigned from his role as his state's House Speaker in November after being accused of harassing a female staffer (he first denied the harassment, but later stated that he "acknowledged" his actions were "inappropriate" and that "technically that would violate the ethics statute"). Hoover is running unopposed; the state's Democratic Party said that its attempts to recruit a challenger fell through at the last minute.
With so many of these candidates out there, it's tempting to feel that #MeToo isn't really having an effect in these races. But there's more to the story. Many, many women running for state office are campaigning with anti-sexual misconduct platforms, although they generally aren't focusing on allegations facing their opponents.
Sine Kerr in Arizona, who is running against Shooter, says she won't bring up his accusations on the trail because she "trust[s]" voters to be "informed," according to Talking Points Memo. Kentucky's Debra Ferguson Payne is avoiding allegations against her opponent, Jim Stewart (he denies that the alleged complaint even exists), because "We have 2 to 1 Republicans here, and I don't think they want to hear it," per TPM.
Instead, female candidates are focusing on anti-harassment and anti-assault policy solutions as well as their personal stories of dealing with sexual misconduct. Anna Eskamani, who's running in Florida, has spoken about the harassment she once received from a male supervisor, according to PBS. She also addresses the need for stronger systems for reporting misconduct on her campaign website. Ohio's Rachel Crooks is one of the many women who's accused President Trump of sexual assault (he denies it). She's openly said that it's one of the reasons why she decided to run.
Polling suggests that a majority of voters care about their representative's platform on sexual misconduct, but also that most don't consider it one of their top priorities. A poll from CNN in May showed that sexual harassment will be an "extremely/very important" issue to 58 percent of voters in the midterms. But every other issue except one ranked higher, with the economy taking ultimate priority at 84 percent. The lowest-ranked issue was Russian interference in the 2016 election, which only 40 percent of voters said would play an extremely important factor in their vote.
The CNN poll also showed that certain demographics — women, liberals, and people of color — tend to rank sexual harassment and assault as a higher priority. But it's also an issue that transcends identity markers and partisan divides.
"People are looking for authenticity. When you're willing to talk about such a traumatic experience, that definitely forms a connection as people," political strategist Susan Del Percio told NBC News.
EMILY's List's Julie McClain Downey agreed, telling NBC, "It's a way of saying, 'I will be your voice. I understand what you've gone through and so many other women have gone through.'"