“Smear the queer” is how former Republican candidate Carl DeMaio describes the effort that ended congressional ambitions.
He’s still not over it.
Seven months ago DeMaio conceded to Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), ending a nasty campaign for California’s 52nd congressional district representing San Diego. It was a campaign filled with accusations from a former aide of alleged sexual misconduct—charges that hobbled his campaign in its final weeks.
Last week, Todd Bosnich, the former aide, admitted to manufacturing emails he used to support his claim that DeMaio sexually harassed him, and plead guilty to obstruction of justice.
The admission was a cold comfort to DeMaio.
“The impact this has had on my family, it was very rough,” DeMaio told The Daily Beast in an interview. “But I’m very please to see at least some level of justice delivered with these charges.”
“You can’t go back and have a do-over on an election,” he said. “That’s just not how the system works and I get that. “
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still angry.
He’s angry about how his opponent used tactics he describes as a cynical ploy to scare away conservative voters by making them uncomfortable with the fact DeMaio is gay.
“It absolutely was generated to go after our conservatives voters,” DeMaio said. “What [Peters] needed to do was not go to the middle, he needed to try to dissuade far right voters, older voters, social conservative voters, from voting for the gay guy.”
DeMaio said conservative voters were willing to overlook the fact he was gay, if there wasn’t an “ick factor,” which is why, he said, one was created.
“You can be gay, but you can’t be one of those gays,” he said. “And that’s why this allegation was so vicious, so disgusting and so harmful. Because Mr. Peters played on the notion of ‘Oh, he’s a sexual deviant.’ … That’s why this was frustrating.”
Peters, in an interview, denied having anything to do with the allegations and said DeMaio was still refusing to take responsibility for his actions.
“What he’s saying is entirely untrue,” Peters told The Daily Beast. “The authorities did not make any opinion on whether Mr. Bosnich’s sexual harassment [allegations] were true or false.”
(No sexual harassment charges were ever filed against DeMaio.)
He added that a second claim, unrelated to the alleged incident with Bosnich, (“I’m sure Carl didn’t mention”) was made by another campaign staffer.
“We did not make any allegations against Carl DeMaio,” Peters said. “Those allegations came from two former Republican staffers. To blame it on me is something Carl is trying to do to avoid answering some of those questions himself. And, again, the police did not say that those allegations were false. “
But before we go further into the back-and-forth let’s back up for a minute.
In 2014, DeMaio was one of three openly gay Republicans who ran in competitive congressional districts. DeMaio-Peters was one of the tightest in the country—with both candidates polling within the margin of error for months.
“I wanted to say that this needed to be a mandate from a purple district that you need people who are willing to stand up in Congress and say, ‘Cut the crap on the social issues and let’s just make government work,” DeMaio told The Daily Beast.
The trouble began in May when DeMaio’s office was broken into and vandalized—campaign materials disappeared only to reappear in the hands of the Peter’s campaign later.
The Peters campaign has maintained they turned the materials over to the police—but how fast they did it is still a matter of disagreement between the warring factions.
In October, a campaign aide, Todd Bosnich, who had been fired earlier that year for plagiarism, surfaced with allegations that DeMaio had sexually harassed him and then tried to buy his silence for $50,000 after he was fired.
Bosnich said he received threatening emails after he reported the sexual harassment. The FBI soon began to investigate his claims. They later said no charges would be filed against DeMaio.
With just days left to go, a second former DeMaio campaign staffer accused DeMaio of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment.
The DeMaio campaign said it was another smear designed to help Peters out in the waning days of the campaign.
On Election Day, DeMaio lost by about 3 percent.
Several days after the election the San Diego Union-Tribune, citing court documents, reported Peters’ campaign manager, MaryAnne Pintar, was the one who initially reported Bosnich’s claims to the police.
In fact, Pintar met with Bosnich in June and was given DeMaio campaign documents including strategy documents. She made copies of some of the documents and then turned them over to the police days later, according to the Union-Tribune report.
“A young man I had never met before reached out to me saying he’d been sexually assaulted and threatened by Carl DeMaio,” she told the Union-Tribune at the time. “I was concerned about his welfare and went to the police, who thanked me and asked for my continued cooperation, which I provided.”
The second staffer who accused DeMaio had also had interactions with Pintar.
Last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Halpern told the Los Angeles Times that Bosnich, “had the potential to affect a national election” and “for whatever reason, had a great deal of hostility and personal animus toward Mr. DeMaio.”
Bosnich admitted in his guilty plea he sent the threatening emails to himself through other accounts and then took them to the Peters campaign.
(Frank Vecchione, Bosnich’s attorney, told the Los Angeles Times that his client “is accepting responsibility and wants to move on with his life.”)
Asked about the new revelations, Pintar emailed a statement from the Peters campaign, “Someone came to us alleging sexual harassment by Mr. DeMaio; we took everything to the police and they thanked us for it. Carl was accused by two people from his own operation. He’s the one who needs to take some responsibility.”
Peters added, DeMaio had been accused of masturbating in a public restroom several years ago by a colleague in the city council.
In 2013, California State Sen. Ben Hueso said he walked in on DeMaio, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. DeMaio flatly denied the allegation, as did another colleague who Hueso said witnessed a similar incident.
DeMaio called Peters reaction “low.”
“Now the federal justice system has unmask Bosnich as a liar, has unmasked this as a framing of a congressional candidate,” DeMaio said. “Instead of having an empathetic human reaction, Scott Peters continued to perpetuate a smear. That’s really low, ok dude? You won the election.”
He added, “I can understand why good people do not go into politics.”
DeMaio, who hosts a radio show on KOGO-AM in San Diego, has no plans to challenge Peters again, saying the toll this scandal took on his partner and his reputation was just too painful to relive.
“It may be that it is more effective, and more palatable for me, to effect change from the outside,” he said.
He said the stigma of being an openly gay Republican still remains, but it’s a glass ceiling for someone else to crack.
“The challenge of being a gay Republican, not supported by the gay community, they don’t like the fact that you are Republican,” he said. “That’s the ultimate betrayal, is being a Republican.”
“If I were a gay Democrat and a Republican tried doing what Scott Peters did to me, there would be rioting in the streets in the middle of the election,” he said. “But it’s ok to do it to a Republican because, you know, we really don’t want you to break through that glass ceiling. And so that was very challenging.”