Amid dueling news conferences held in the same building, Missouri’s two major candidates for governor are accusing each other of giving short-shrift to women, especially when it comes to sex trafficking and domestic violence.
Both candidates – Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Eric Greitens – were accused of displaying poor judgment on women’s issues and of accepting money from donors with questionable character when it comes to the treatment of women.
Dave Robertson, head of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said the sparring reflects, in part, the fact that women are likely to cast a majority of the ballots in Missouri and in the nation on Nov. 8.
Women make up about 53 percent of the registered voters, he said, so “a lot of candidates are targeting women voters.”
And there’s also the fact that a similar battle this week over the treatment of women has been consuming the nation’s presidential contest between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
In addition, there’s a personal backdrop. Greitens and Koster are both divorced, although Greitens has remarried and has two children.
Allies of Koster, currently Missouri’s attorney general, held a news conference Thursday with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Their target was Greitens, who was blasted for a campaign ad that featured a military veteran who also had a Facebook page with disparaging comments about women and rape victims.
Missouri Democratic Party executive director Crystal Brinkley also highlighted several of Greitens’ donors who have domestic violence or assault accusations – notably California venture capitalist Michael Goguen, who has been accused in court of sexual abuse. Goguen gave $1 million to Greitens’ primary campaign.
Brinkley asserted that Greitens’ decision to keep Goguen’s money was a display of poor judgment. Greitens has said it was unfair to judge Goguen until the court fight had been resolved.
Dispute over donors
The Greitens news conference, held just down the hall, featured former U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway who lost to Greitens in the GOP primary, but now is among his leading campaign advocates. She highlighted a vote Koster cast in 2007, while in the state Senate, against a bill that expanded protections for victims of rape and domestic violence.
Koster’s campaign says he voted against the bill because of a provision that eased penalties on perpetrators of domestic violence. His campaign also issued a long list of his actions – as a legislator and prosecutor – to expand protections for victims of rape and domestic violence, including passage of new state laws. He created a domestic-violence task force in 2011.
Hanaway and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, another ally of Greitens, pointed to $12,000 in donations Koster took in 2011 and 2012 from a lobbyist for Backpage.com, an entity that critics allege facilitates sex trafficking.
During the GOP primary, Hanaway had been among the biggest critics of Greitens’ decision to keep the $1 million donation from Goguen. But she said on Thursday there’s a difference between the questionable donations to Greitens and Koster.
“Mr. Goguen was not lobbying for a particular perspective.,” Hanaway said. “Backpage is lobbying for a particular perspective for continuing it to be legal for them to essentially advertise for human trafficking services.”
Koster's campaign countered with a long list of legal actions that he's taken against Backpage since he took office, many of those actions after the disputed donations. A spokesman also noted that the Backpage lobbyist/Koster donor cited by Hanaway also had donated to Greitens' charity that aids veterans, The Mission Continues.
Koster's campaign contended that the real issue was his long-standing record of fighting for victims of rape and domestic violence, and Greitens' lack of one.
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