BERNSTEIN: Undeserved outrage

Jennifer Wexton’s campaign advertisement does not equate her political opponents with rapists

During our brief hiatus from school, a special election took place to fill Lieutenant Governor-elect Ralph Northam’s now-vacated state Senate seat. Another one is set for Jan. 21 to fill Attorney General Mark Herring’s spot.

Jennifer Wexton, a former Loudon County prosecutor, is the Democratic candidate running to fill Herring’s seat on the 21st; she faces one Republican and one Republican-turned-independent candidate. The Republican Party of Virginia has recently attacked Wexton for a 33-second ad she put up lauding her work prosecuting rapists. Republicans are crying foul and claiming the ad strives to compare rapists to Republican politicians, which at best is an exaggeration and at worst completely made up.

The Republican Party of Virginia has released statements condemning Wexton, essentially for accurately describing her professional history. Lisa Caruso, an attorney from Dinwiddie County Commonwealth, is quoted on the Republican Party of Virginia’s website saying that “comparing political activism to rape is simply beyond the bounds of decent behavior.” She calls for Wexton to withdraw from the race; the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, Pat Mullins, believes that in the ad Wexton suggests “that her opponents are on the same level as rapists.”

This Republican claim, not Wexton’s ad, is what’s offensive. Wexton begins the ad by describing various attacks against women, goes on to recount her work prosecuting criminals including rapists, and concludes by saying that in the state Senate she will continue to work to protect women, but this time in the area of policy—“against Tea Party Republicans” who are pro-life even in cases of rape and incest. In no way does she insinuate that either of her opponents are similar to rapists; she does, however, insinuate that they don’t support policies that are favorable to women, and that is a perfectly acceptable claim to make during a campaign. She concludes her ad by declaring her support for women’s health-care and abortion rights in the case of incest and/or rape, attempting to contrast this with the stances of her opponents.

It is worth noting that no statement from the Republican Party suggests that Tea Party state senators, or John Whitbeck, the Republican candidate running against Wexton, have a good record on women’s issues. That is the most powerful part about the party’s reaction to Wexton’s ad. Her charges that Virginia Republicans don’t support women’s health issues are being tacitly verified by the party’s style of response. By focusing on a made-up claim that Wexton has gone over the line of acceptable campaign rhetoric, the Republican Party is attempting to divert voters’ attention from the fact that her claims have merit.

In response to the Republican Party’s statements, Wexton’s campaign manager Mitchell Norton has rightly said, “The real outrage here is that both of Jennifer’s Republican opponents have voted for these types of laws that would have prevented victims of rape and incest from seeking quality health care or exercising the right to choose.”

Wexton is right to end her ad by showcasing her intent to protect women while in the state Senate, since out of the three candidates running she seems to be the only one with some background in women’s issues and the only one with an agenda that focuses on maintaining women’s rights. Instead of feigning outrage at an ad that correctly calls Republicans out on their lack of support for women’s issues, the Republican Party of Virginia needs to adjust its platform and prove it can be a party that represents women’s interests, thereby making ads like Wexton’s irrelevant.

Dani Bernstein is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. Her columns run Tuesdays.

Published January 13, 2014 in FP test, Opinion

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