Two years after Sandra Fluke rose to national prominence when Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut,” she is again at the center of right-wing attacks—and this time it seems as if her Democratic opponent for state Senate is playing along.
On Tuesday, Fluke, 33, a women’s rights activist and self-described social justice attorney, came in second place in the open primary for a state Senate seat in California’s 26th District behind Democrat Ben Allen. As the top two vote-getters, Fluke and Allen will advance to the November 4 general election.
In testimony before Washington Democrats in 2012, Fluke criticized the health insurance policies of Georgetown University, a Jesuit school. “I’m an American woman who uses contraceptives,” she said.
The only logical question in response to Fluke’s hearing, Rush Limbaugh apparently reasoned, was “It makes her a slut, right?”
The radio giant, evidently confused about how contraceptives work, dug in deeper: “It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
Limbaugh eventually apologized after an outcry from the left and the right, including from President Obama. As a result of the incident, Fluke became a national women’s rights icon, speaking at the Democratic National Convention and campaigning for the president.
Fluke told The Daily Beast that she had “absolutely not” wanted to run for office before but that she changed her mind “because I felt like this was the next step that gave me the most effective path to continue to improve our society and our community.” She added that “folks all over Los Angeles and many around the country were asking me to step forward and to run, and to be a different kind of voice in our government.”
From the moment the word was out that Fluke was considering a run for office, she was the subject of right-wing side-eye.
“I just hope voters look to that and [think], ‘She’s in the public spotlight, she’s under attack, what does her leadership look like in response? Does she stoop to that kind of level?’”
In January, a Breitbart report on her possible run to replace Rep. Henry Waxman called her “the birth-control activist who helped Democrats launch their ‘Republican war on women’ theme in the 2012 elections,” as if she had asked to be attacked by Limbaugh.
“Sandra Fluke Aborts Congressional Bid,” read another headline on Breitbart after Fluke opted to run instead for the state Senate. “Her decision to abort her congressional campaign at a very early stage may have avoided much of the national political controversy that a later decision to terminate the effort would have likely triggered,” the subtle piece read.
Allen, Fluke’s Democratic opponent, granted an interview to Breitbart, despite the tone of its coverage of Fluke.
Asked about Allen’s interview, Fluke told The Daily Beast, “I was a little disappointed in that.”
Overall, Fluke said the negative stories “occasionally” bother her, but they haven’t surprised her. “Throughout the last two years, it’s been a fairly steady stream of personal and unfair attacks from some particular media outlets [and] commenters online, as well,” she said.
The attacks, Fluke said, are a sign “that I’m accomplishing something—I’m pushing back on something—when I’m getting that kind of response back…I certainly expect [the attacks] to continue, and I’m sure they will.”
Asked whether being on the receiving end of such criticism could benefit her, Fluke said: “I think that what the attacks from the right demonstrate is what kind of response I have to them, and voters have seen this again and again…I just hope voters look to that and [think], ‘She’s in the public spotlight, she’s under attack, what does her leadership look like in response? Does she stoop to that kind of level? Does she engage in unethical attacks in response? Or does she conduct herself in a way that would make us proud to have her represent us?’”
Although Fluke has name recognition and has been endorsed by public figures such as Gloria Steinem, the bearded and bespectacled Allen, who is an attorney, an education and law policy professor at UCLA, and a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education, has a fundraising advantage.