Sep 14, 2023 - News

Pundits split on whether candidate who live streamed sex videos is viable

Illustration of a ballot with "XXX" on it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Does performing in live online sex videos make you unelectable in a hotly contested suburban swing district?

What's happening: First-time Democratic candidate Susanna Gibson is about to find out.

Catch up fast: The Washington Post reported Monday that the 40-year-old nurse practitioner running for office in Henrico streamed more than a dozen videos with her husband on the porn site Chaturbate.

  • In the videos, she solicited tips from viewers in exchange for performing specific sex acts, saying in at least two recordings she is "raising money for a good cause," per the Post, which reported it received copies of the videos from an unnamed Republican operative.
  • Gibson denounced the disclosure as "gutter politics" and her lawyer argued the videos' distribution could be viewed as a violation of the state's revenge porn law.

The big picture: Pundits and voters are split on whether it's a who-cares moment or an immediate race loser.

  • Sen. Louise Lucas, a top state Democrat with a flamboyant social media persona, is squarely in the it-doesn't-matter column.
  • She took to X the day the Post's story came out urging her supporters to "make this the biggest fundraising day" of Gibson's campaign.

Amanda Linton, a 45-year-old defense contractor who heeded Lucas' request and contributed $25 to Gibson, told the AP the videos were "nobody's business."

  • "She didn't break any laws by doing this. She had sex with her husband. I mean, my God," Linton said.

Yes, but: Some pundits say despite living in a more open-minded era, the videos are almost certain to hurt her campaign.

  • "Donald Trump has defined downward what is acceptable in public life, but this doesn't seem like the kind of conduct that Democrats will be able to sell in a suburban Richmond district," University of Mary Washington political scientist Stephen Farnsworth told the AP.

The intrigue: Besides Lucas, no high-profile Democrats are coming to Gibson's defense.

  • The state party refused to comment two days in a row, the Times-Dispatch reported.
  • And Democrats who had recently campaigned with Gibson also steered clear, including Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, as did Mayor Stoney, per the paper.

The other side: Publicly, Gibson's Republican opponent, David Owen, is taking a hands-off approach, saying in a statement to the AP, "I'm sure this is a difficult time for Susanna and her family, and I'm remaining focused on my campaign."

Of note: The leak came just after the deadline for a new candidate to get their name on the November ballot, meaning if Gibson were to withdraw, the party would have to run a write-in candidate.

The bottom line: Taboos change fast, mused Politico media columnist Jack Shafer.

  • "Before Ronald Reagan, it was inconceivable for a divorcee to run for president. Today, nobody cares," he wrote.

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