SAN DIEGO — Under fire amid sexual harassment allegations, GOP House candidate Carl DeMaio is saying Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) is behind the "outrageous, despicable, disgraceful, unethical" claims against him.
Just over two weeks from Election Day, the openly gay Republican suggested the allegations from a former campaign aide and Democrats’ subsequent attacks were driven by his sexuality.
The allegations have roiled one of the Republicans’ top pickup opportunities. CNN reported former campaign worker Todd Bosnich claimed he was the subject of unwanted advances from DeMaio. The former city councilor was also accused last year by a fellow city councilor of masturbating in a City Hall restroom.
DeMaio has vehemently denied both claims, but the most recent allegations are a new threat to the positive profile he's attempted to build during his highly-touted campaign, in part because of DeMaio's attractive candidacy. The openly-gay small business owner has appeared with his husband in campaign ads and bills himself as a "new kind of Republican."
"I think that when we learned this week that Scott Peters' campaign was actively promoting this smear to reporters and making other claims that were outrageous, despicable, disgraceful, unethical — it simply confirmed for me the lengths that this man would go and the lack of judgment that [Peters] possesses to simply hang on to a political seat in Congress," the GOP hopeful said.
DeMaio said that was why he walked off the set of the forum without shaking Peters's hand, a striking moment underscoring how nasty and personal the race has become in recent weeks.
The Republican suggested the new claims were a politically motivated "smear" from "someone who's deeply troubled, who only manufactured this lie once he became a suspect in the police investigation into the criminal break-in in my office."
Bosnich was fired earlier this year when it was revealed he plagiarized large swaths of DeMaio's campaign website. DeMaio has claimed it was Bosnich who broke into his campaign office earlier this yea, but those charges have not been proven.
"I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to realize, in the last 20 days of a campaign, this is a smear," DeMaio said.
But asked during a Friday forum whether he'd take a lie detector test to put them to bed — something he did in response to the first allegations — DeMaio demurred.
Peters told The Hill he thought it was "interesting" DeMaio took a test to refute the first accuser, but won't now, especially since the latest accuser on Friday released the results of his own test refuting DeMaio's allegation that he was behind the break-in.
"I mean, voters have to draw their own conclusions about that," Peters said. "But again, I have to focus on knocking on these doors and making these phone calls."
DeMaio said he felt he had addressed the accusations adequately, and that to continue discussing them would be doing a disservice to voters.
"I don't know what more to say besides it's an outrageous lie, with not a shred of truth," he said.
Adding more intrigue to the feud between the two, Peters confirmed that his campaign had received "information" that was clearly linked to DeMaio's campaign in early June, which he said his campaign forwarded to the police immediately after realizing what it was — but didn't inform DeMaio at the time he had received it.
The Republican asked Peters during a Friday morning candidate forum if he had received his "campaign playbook," which was stolen from the candidate's office during a break-in in May.
Peters only responded that "information was provided to our campaign which we immediately turned over to the police," and his campaign has denied that it received anything resembling a "campaign playbook."
DeMaio on Saturday questioned why Peters "didn't have the integrity to call me and tell me."
"He didn't do what's right and he had to be called out on it. I think it's unfortunate," he said.
That contentious exchange contributed to DeMaio's choice to walk off the set without shaking his opponent's hand.
Peters said during a sit-down with The Hill at his campaign headquarters earlier that day that he was surprised by DeMaio's snub.
"I've never experienced someone not wanting to shake my hand. I know we're in a tough race ... but I stuck my hand out yesterday, he just, didn't look me in the eye, walked by and said, 'That's ok,'" Peters laughed, adding it was a "strange" moment.
Asked why he thought the Republican declined to shake his hand, Peters said: "I think he must've been having a hard day."
Democrats have charged the latest allegations raise further questions about DeMaio’s integrity.
Reps. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Susan Davis (D-Calif.), who stopped by Saturday morning at Peters's office, were careful to avoid politicizing the latest allegations against DeMaio.
Kennedy said that "by far the most important thing [in the race] is Scott's message and his record of trying to solve problems."
Davis declined to comment on the allegations against DeMaio, and said only that she "suspects [voters] are taking a second look at Scott Peters" now that they've emerged.
But Peters said voters should "assess this in the context of a whole range of issues."
"I do think that, putting aside the merits of this particular thing, there are a lot of reasons to be concerned about Mr. DeMaio's integrity," he said.
"He had that plagiarism charge, he hired a regional policy director who had a tweeting history that was full of venomous anti-semitism, was anti-women, and now he's had this thing with the tracker issue — what am I missing?"
National Republicans have stood by DeMaio, however, and his campaign went on as usual on Saturday, with a rally that morning at his headquarters where he estimated 120 volunteers showed up to walk neighborhoods in the district, with another 130 gathering at a satellite office he operates jointly with the district GOP.
He also appeared at two "community coffees" to chat with local voters. Standing outside of one, hosted by a 16-year-old volunteer and her family at their home in a tony suburb of San Diego, DeMaio expressed confidence heading into the final leg of the campaign.
"I feel pretty good that our message of inclusion, of reform, it's getting out there. And we've done our polling this week and I feel really good," he said.