In this election, some candidates have made unguarded comments at off-the-record fundraisers, while others have drawn fire for impolitic comments about women and rape.
Former state Rep. John Koster (R) has managed to do both. Koster, who remains closely tied with Democrat Suzan DelBene in Washington State’s 1st district, has been in damage control mode since Wednesday, when a progressive group released a secretly recorded audiotape of him saying that “the rape thing” does not justify abortion.
In the audiotape, posted on YouTube by the progressive group Fuse Washington, Koster responds to an unseen questioner who asks him: “Is there any time that you would agree with abortion?”
Koster’s reply includes the comment: “On the rape thing, it’s like: How does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s the consequence of this crime – how does that make it better?”
NARAL Pro-Choice America, which has endorsed DelBene and donated $5,000 to her campaign, quickly condemned Koster’s statement. A staunch abortion opponent, Koster has received the backing of the National Right to Life Committee and the National Republican Coalition for Life, among other anti-abortion groups.
“John Koster just added his name to the unfortunately long list of politicians who demean rape survivors,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan said in a statement. “To belittle a sexual assault as a ‘rape thing’ and imply that a survivor should be forced to live with the consequences of such an act shows a deplorable lack of compassion.”
DelBene also pounced, telling KIRO 7 Eyewitness News in Washington state: “This isn’t a ‘thing.’ It is a violent crime, and we need to make sure women have the ability to make their own decisions.”
Koster responded with the following statement: “Rape is a vicious and horribly violent crime, and no one in Washington State has been tougher on criminals and sex offenders than I have been, period.” The statement notes that as a state legislator, Koster sponsored “two strikes, you’re out” legislation to permanently lock up violent sex offenders. In the statement, Koster’s campaign manager, Larry Stickney, also describes the recording as “done secretly then edited to suit DelBene’s agenda.”
Koster’s comments come on the heels of other controversial comments involving rape and abortion by both Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Akin’s Missouri Senate bid was damaged by his reference to “legitimate rape.” Mourdock, running for Senate against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D), drew fire after he said even pregnancy after rape is “something that God intended to happen.”
Polls show the 1st district race between DelBene and Koster remains a statistical dead heat. A recent King5 TV poll showed DelBene at 47 percent and Koster at 44 percent, within the margin of error.