A campaign ad released this week by Democratic Virginia state Senate candidate Jennifer Wexton has sparked sharp criticism among Republican officials, who claim Wexton’s message in the video compares her political opponents to rapists.

Wexton, a former Loudoun County prosecutor, is one of three candidates running in a special election to fill the 33rd District Senate seat vacated by Attorney General-elect Mark R. Herring (D). She faces two opponents: Republican John Whitbeck, chairman of the state’s 10th Congressional District Republican Committee, and state Del. Joe T. May, a veteran Republican legislator who was unseated in a June primary. May has since severed his ties to the GOP and is running as an independent candidate.

In the ad posted to Wexton’s campaign Web site Tuesday, Wexton stands in a courtroom and describes her experience defending female rape and assault victims.

“In the Virginia Senate, I’ll fight just as hard against tea party Republicans who would take away a woman’s health care and her right to choose, even in cases of rape and incest,” Wexton says in the ad.

“On election day, help me stand up for her,” she concludes, gesturing toward a symbolically empty witness chair.

The Republican Party of Virginia condemned the ad in a prepared statement Thursday, and said the video shows that the Wexton is unfit for office.

“Words simply fail when I try to describe how offensive this is,” said Pat Mullins, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, in the statement. “Jennifer Wexton is running to represent all of the people in the 33rd Senate District, not just liberal Democrats like her… if Jennifer Wexton is truly writing off people who disagree with her as no better than rapists, then she has no business in politics at all.”

The statement also included a response from Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Lisa Caruso, who said she, too, had spent her career fighting to put criminals and rapists behind bars.

“I’ve seen the kind of sick, unrepentant predators that commit rape firsthand,” she said in the statement. “Comparing political activism to rape is simply beyond the bounds of decent behavior. Jennifer Wexton should take down this ad, apologize, and withdraw her candidacy.”

Wexton campaign manager Mitchell Norton said Thursday that the ad was in no way intended to compare Republican lawmakers to rapists.

“That charge is ridiculous,” Norton 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.”

He said Wexton’s campaign stands by the video.

“The ad is about Jennifer’s record as a fighter and a defender of women, and it’s comparing her fighting to defend women in court … to fighting to protect them in Richmond,” Norton said.

A special election to fill Herring’s seat is set for Jan. 21.