Pennsylvania Democrats and a women’s rights group are criticizing Republican Attorney General hopeful Dave Freed for his remark that his opponent, Kathleen Kane, is “pretty and has a lot of money”.
He made the comment during an interview with the Towanda Daily Review on Wednesday. The reporter had asked Freed about the challenge he faces in November. In addition to Kane’s appearance and by extension her gender and her funding (during the primary Kane’s husband loaned her campaign $1.75 million); Freed also noted Dems’ voter registration advantage in PA.
The PA chapter of the National Organization for Women fired off a press release – which was forwarded by the PA Democratic Party – condemning Freed.
“It’s a shame in 2012 that Mr. Freed would rather talk about Kathleen Kane’s appearance than his own credentials,” said Julia Ramsey, the group’s chair. “Kathleen Kane is an accomplished career prosecutor who’s taken on violent sexual offenders and pedophiles.”
Kane served as assistant District Attorney in Lackawanna County from 1995 to 2007. Freed is the Cumberland County District Attorney, a post he has held since 2005.
“War on women” issues, among them the now-defunct proposal for mandatory ultrasounds and legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, have earned numerous headlines so far this election cycle. Democrats, Kane included, have sought to tie the AG race – which historically has been low-key – to the hot-button topics.
In TV ads and appearances, Kane’s campaign has emphasized the fact that she would be the first woman elected to the post of Attorney General (current AG Linda Kelly was appointed, not elected, to fill the remainder of Tom Corbett’s term). During the primary, she vocally criticized the ultrasound mandate. The PA Dems sought to put Freed on the record on the proposal after it had been effectively defeated.
The Kane camp declined to comment on Freed’s Wednesday remark.
Several Democratic women and officeholders joined PA NOW in criticizing Freed.
Bucks County Commissioner Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia said she sees the comment as representative of a general trend in Pennsylvania politics. She said, “Pennsylvania is one of the lowest states in the nation in terms of the number of female elected officials. This sort of comment by Dave Freed is part of the reason why. This comment happened to be caught by a reporter…who knows what sort of thing he’s saying behind closed doors?”
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said, “I am offended by Dave Freed’s comment that Kathleen Kane is just “pretty and has a lot of money”. I’m sure Kathleen Kane, like a lot of women, is ‘pretty’ fed up with Harrisburg politicians totally out of touch with women.”
The Freed campaign declined to comment.
Physical appearance is at least relevant thanks to the prevalence of television advertising and campaign literature. The question is just how great a role does it actually play.
Dr. Catherine Wilson is an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University who specializes in part in how women affect politics. She said appearance isn’t thought to be a major factor.
“As a matter of general principle, a candidate’s appearance can factor subconsciously into a voter’s decision-making. But in the field of political science, appearance is not a commonplace variable for electoral study. Instead, political scientists tend to analyze candidate messaging, party structure, and voter preferences. And appearance never has topped the list of those preferences.”
Kane is not the first female politician whose qualifications have been minimized by opponents because of her physical attractiveness. Wilson said, “it is important to note that attractiveness is oftentimes a double-edged sword, especially for female candidates. All one needs to do is to consider recent elections where so-called ‘attractive’ women ran for public office. In some cases, these elections served to drive a wedge between those candidates’ looks and their professional capabilities, rendering them less qualified for office in the eyes of political elites and media establishments.”