Chris Janicek must have seemed like a dream candidate for Nebraska Democrats hoping to unseat Ben Sasse. The openly gay moderate might have given them enough credibility on both wings of their party and among Cornhuskers to give a serious challenge to incumbent Republican Ben Sasse, whose occasional clashes with Trump might have left him a little vulnerable.
Instead, Nebraska Democrats have a nightmare on their hands. E-mails from Janicek have emerged that he sent to a woman on his campaign discussing whether to spend money on “getting her laid,” and that “it will probably take three guys” to accomplish it. Now they need him to quit in order to replace him:
The Nebraska Democratic Party called on its U.S. Senate nominee to drop out of the race Tuesday after he made sexually repugnant comments about a campaign staffer in a group text with her and other staffers.
The party said its state executive committee voted unanimously on Monday evening to withdraw all of its resources from Chris Janicek’s campaign. …
The text messages, which were obtained by The Associated Press, were from a group chat involving Janicek and five other people, including the female staffer. At one point, he wrote that he had argued with her and then asked whether the campaign should spend money on “getting her laid.”
“It will probably take three guys,” he wrote, before describing in graphic detail an imagined group sex scene involving the female staffer.
Unfortunately for the party, Janicek has already been nominated. He won a seven-person race for the ballot slot last month, and the party can’t remove him now that he’s been certified. A new nomination would first require Janicek to step aside, and he’d have to do so before September 11, when the state certifies the general-election ballot. That would force the party to hand-pick Janicek’s replacement, which would itself create all sorts of headaches for the party, but not as many as having these texts floating around in a general election.
Their biggest problem, though, is that Janicek isn’t interested in withdrawing. He claims he was joking, and that his status as a gay man means he can’t really be accused of sexually harassing a woman. Er …
Despite the state party’s request that he withdraw, Janicek told CNN that he “did not consider it ever.”
“I’d like to just move on with the campaign, but the Nebraska Democratic Party has taken it in another direction,” he said. …
Janicek, the party’s nominee running against Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, told CNN that in late May he sent a text message to a group including himself, the female former staffer and four other campaign staffers. He characterized the message as “simply repeating what she had said earlier in the week, that she needed to get laid.”
“I’m an openly gay man running for senate against Ben Sasse, so it was not sexual harassment, it was something that had been discussed between her and a girlfriend,” Janicek said, later adding that he had overheard the staffer’s phone conversation at campaign headquarters.
That’s not actually a defense against sexual harassment, at least not in a legal sense. Perhaps Janicek hopes that it will work in a political sense. He’s already trying to reframe this as a set-up by left-wing extremists within his party to oust him over his more conservative views on guns and abortion:
In a brief phone interview, Janicek said he doesn’t plan to drop out of the race. He alleged that the party was targeting him because he disagreed with its more liberal activists on issues such as abortion rights and gun control.
“They’re using this as a crutch,” he said.
It’s at this point that Nebraska Democrats will start reaching for the Excedrin, and Nebraska Republicans will start reaching for the popcorn. Even with all of Sasse’s issues, there wasn’t much chance of him losing this seat in November. There is zero chance of Sasse losing it now. Democrats have to decide whether they will lose more down-ballot seats with Janicek still on the ticket, or with the intraparty feud that will erupt if they get a chance to hand-pick his replacement.
The real question will be whether the media picks up on Janicek’s antics and asks other Democratic candidates about them, as they did with Todd Akin’s comments about rape and abortion in 2012. The media made that a national narrative and challenged Republicans to answer for it in practically every race that year, and practically at every level. Actually, we all know that it’s not going to happen, so let’s just call it a real rhetorical question.
For now, though, Nebraska Democrats find themselves on the hook with Janicek until he decides to leave. It seems pretty doubtful that a man who had little qualms about discussing a staffer’s sex life and suggesting it would take three men to satisfy her in an e-mail would be easily shamed into quitting. Although Lord knows, he should be.