When Candace Faber accused a prominent state lawmaker of raping her, she had no idea his name would be on a ballot a month later.
In late September, Faber watched as politicians criticized Christine Blasey Ford for waiting decades to come forward with her allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. Tired of staying silent, Faber decided to tell her own story, naming Washington state Sen. Joe Fain (R) as the man she says raped her in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. in 2007, on the night she graduated from Georgetown University.
“I was not quite prepared for what would happen,” Faber said. She said that when she accused Fain she didn’t know he was running for re-election this year.
Fain, who has denied the rape allegation, is running for re-election Tuesday, one of more than a dozen state lawmakers across the country recently accused of sexual misconduct who are still vying for their political offices in the midterm elections.
Political leaders, the Seattle Times editorial board and even some of Faber’s aquaintances have continued to support Fain. Despite calls for an investigation, state lawmakers have shown no sign of pursuing one, leaving it up to voters to decide what to make of Faber’s allegations.
For Faber, the election will be a microcosm of the Kavanaugh debate, a referendum in her own community on her own account of sexual assault. As voters show up to the polls Tuesday, Faber wonders, will her story make a difference?
Faber isn’t hopeful. If Fain wins, “it would confirm what I’ve always believed,” she said, “that our society doesn’t believe survivors.”
Across the country, in the 13 months since the dawn of the #MeToo movement, politicians at nearly every level of office have been accused of sexual misconduct. An outpouring of sexual assault and harassment allegations has upended the careers of at least 27 federal officials, including one senator, eight House members and three congressional candidates, according to a Washington Post analysis in September.
Many others have survived, keeping their jobs and winning primaries to advance to Tuesday’s elections. In Congress, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif), Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) and candidate Marty Nothstein (R-Pa.) have faced accusations of inappropriate behavior and are running in the midterms anyway. All three have denied the allegations. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn), who is running for Minnesota attorney general, has been accused of emotionally and physically abusing an ex-girlfriend, allegations he has denied.
But far away from the nation’s capital and the daily news cycle, allegations of sexual harassment and assault have rippled through state legislatures across the country, from Oregon to Ohio to Pennsylvania to Georgia.
In Kentucky, seven state lawmakers were implicated in sexual misconduct scandals that surfaced in the last year. Three are running for reelection.
Rep. Jeff Hoover, a Republican, resigned as Kentucky House speaker amid news that he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a woman on his staff, a settlement also signed by three other Republican lawmakers. Yet despite calls to step down from his House seat, Hoover is running for reelection Tuesday — unopposed.
In California, four state lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct are running for reelection. Among them is Cristina Garcia, a California Assembly member who was considered a leading advocate of the #MeToo movement until February, when two men accused her of groping and sexual harassment.
An initial Assembly investigation failed to corroborate the groping allegations, but concluded that Garcia used vulgar language against Assembly colleagues. She was removed from all of her committee duties, but is running for reelection in a mostly Democratic district, a race that has been called a “#MeToo role reversal.”
It’s unclear to what extent these allegations of sexual misconduct will sway public opinion in Tuesday’s races, but anecdotal and polling evidence has shown that partisan loyalty, particularly among Republicans, can lead voters to question or brush off allegations of sexual harassment or assault. A survey earlier this year from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 58 percent of Americans who disagree that sexual harassment claims are “just a misunderstanding” said vote Democratic, while 38 percent vote Republican.
Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, wrote in the nonpartisan blog Gender Watch that “voters’ intolerance for misogynist behavior and beliefs is far from universal.” For example, Dittmar wrote, while Roy Moore lost his Senate race after being accused of misconduct with teenage girls, he still garnered 650,000 votes. President Trump was elected despite accusations of sexual misconduct from more than a dozen women.
When it comes to “down ballot races,” such as state legislature elections, voters are even more likely to fall back on their political party, said Michael Miller, an assistant professor at Barnard College who studies American elections and political behavior.
“It’s quite possible that voters might not hear about these allegations,” Miller said. “Very few people can even name their state legislator.”
Even so, for Faber, coming forward with allegations in the midst of an election cycle has put her in a particularly thorny position, with many in her community accusing her of simply trying to sway politics.
“I don’t want to live in a state that’s governed by my rapist but it’s also scary to say that, because people will make the leap to assuming that this is somehow part of his opponent’s campaign,” Faber said. “How do I speak my truth knowing that the fact that we’re in the middle of an election cycle influences people’s perceptions?”
In some of these state races, particularly in rural areas, accusers describe feeling empowered by fellow survivors, but ostracized by many members of their own community — even longtime neighbors and friends.
Christi Rice, of Waynesboro, Tenn., doesn’t even go into town anymore, “because people have been so offended,” she said. “You don’t know who your friends are.”
Rice is one of three women who publicly accused Tennessee state Rep. David Byrd (R) of repeatedly groping them and propositioning them for sex as their high school basketball coach about 30 years ago. Rice kept the abuse allegations to herself for decades.
“It’s a small town. I didn’t want to hurt his family. I thought I was the only one,” Rice said.
But last year, she spoke with two other former teammates and learned they, too, recalled similar experiences with Byrd. After the three women leveled the accusations on local news station WSMV in March, the House Speaker and lieutenant governor, both fellow Republicans, called on Byrd to resign. Byrd called the allegations “disheartening” and questioned the motives and credibility of the accusers. He’s running for reelection anyway.
Rice said she wouldn’t be surprised if he won. Time and time again she has been criticized by members of the Waynesboro community for “bringing down a good man.”
“It’s frustrating in some ways but not unexpected,” Rice, a 48-year-old nurse practitioner, said. “They don’t want to think that they sent their daughters to a school to play ball for a man that could’ve done these things.”
Emily Schlect, who filed a police report in April accusing Minnesota Republican state lawmaker Rod Hamilton of touching her without her consent, said the lackluster response to her allegations has taken a significant toll on her mental health. She has faced public humiliation, struggled with suicidal thoughts and was laid off from the advocacy job that she loved.
Hamilton, who has said Schlect misconstrued his actions, is running for reelection Tuesday.
“Nobody is hearing my voice,” Schlect said. “I’m having to come to the reality that I don’t think he’s going to lose.”