Fla. Republican compares men-only fundraiser to lingerie shower

Anne Wernikoff

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) dismissed Democrats who criticize him as anti-woman for holding a men-only fundraiser by comparing the event to a lingerie shower.

The congressman, who is facing a fierce battle for his seat from Democrat Gwen Graham, also laughed off the assertion because, he said, he lives in a household full of women.

"I live with five women. That's all I'm saying. I live with five women,” Southerland told the Tampa Bay Times, when asked about Democrats’ criticism.

He added: “Listen: Has Gwen Graham ever been to a lingerie shower? Ask her. And how many men were there?"

The congressman later said in an email that his comments were being "misused for political gain."

"I regret that my comments are being misused for political gain," Southerland said. "I was trying to make the point that some organizations host men-only events and some host women-only events. Gwen Graham should be more focused on explaining her background as a D.C. lobbyist and political insider than she is on mischaracterizing my remarks."

Southerland drew heavy criticism for hosting a men-only fundraiser that was widely seen as sexist. The invite included directions for attendees to “tell the Misses not to wait up because the after dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth & the issues to discuss are many."

Southerland’s campaign manager dismissed the controversy as “laughable” when the invitation to the fundraiser was initially published.

The congressman is considered one of the GOP's most vulnerable, and he's been competing with his opponent for the support of female voters, touting support for the Violence Against Women Act in one of his ads. That ad was panned by Democrats, however, who noted that the vote he was touting was for a pared-down version of the bill, not the Senate version, which ultimately became law.

Democrats immediately pounced on the congressman's latest comments. 

"Steve Southerland’s latest jaw-dropping gambit to appeal to women: demean and ridicule us by claiming a ‘lingerie party defense.’ After lying about his vote opposing the Violence Against Women Act and holding a men-only fundraiser straight from the 12th century, this is a new low," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee communications director Emily Bittner. 

—This piece was updated at 3:30 p.m. to reflect comment from Southerland