Originally published: Feb. 5, 2014, 10:51 a.m.
Updated: Feb. 5, 2014, 11:44 a.m.
RALEIGH, N.C. — LGBT North Carolinians leading the movement for inclusion and equality reacted swiftly today to a statement from U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers’ campaign team, which used coded anti-LGBT language to attack Clay Aiken, who announced his candidacy for Congress this morning.
In a statement, Ellmers spokesperson Jessica Wood used traditional code words and phrases to attack Aiken, contrasting Aiken’s supposed “San Francisco” values with Ellmers’ support of families.
Wood called Aiken a “performer whose political views more closely resemble those of San Francisco than Sanford.”
Wood added, “Renee best represents the values of the voters in the 2nd District and remains focused on fighting for their families.”
The statement garnered swift criticism from a former executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party.
In an email to Wood, Dan Gurley, who is gay, criticized the statement and its tone.
“I’m sure you thought you were being clever with your statement yesterday when you said the following, ‘and Aiken, a performer whose political views more closely resemble those of San Francisco than Sanford,'” Gurley wrote. “Well, you weren’t. You were offensive and childish, and if you worked for me or any client of mine I’d fire you. Surely you know better than this. You have offended many on both sides of the political aisle with your ill thought out comments. Not only are you uncreative, but your [sic] small minded.”
Gurley, who’s also previously worked for the Republican National Committee and a variety of national Republican officials, called Ellmers a “good and decent woman who deserves better than this” and suggested Wood do better research on the candidates she represents. Ellmers publicly opposed North Carolina’s anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment in 2012.
“I’m embarrassed for [Ellmers] that this has happened. You should be ashamed. And you should be reprimanded,” Gurley told Wood.
LGBT leaders from the other side of the aisle also reacted, drawing attention to other portions of Ellmers’ record and harkening back to the recent government shutdown.
“Renee Ellmers is trying to use code words to distract from her own out-of-touch record,” LGBT Democrats of North Carolina President Ralph Rodland said in a written statement. “At the height of the government shutdown, Ellmers demanded her paycheck even while over 7,000 workers were furloughed at Fort Bragg because of her votes. She might want this race to be about dog-whistle politics, but this election is going to be about Renee Ellmers’ record of hurting North Carolina.”
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBT advocacy and education group, said Ellmers’ spokesperson was “out of touch” with North Carolina.
“There’s no room in today’s North Carolina for this failed, coded language trying to draw attention to Aiken’s sexual orientation,” Sgro told qnotes. “I’m not sure the last time Renee Ellmers stepped foot in Sanford, but I know that I’ve been there. The values represented by those communities are fairness and equality, and they are going to be interested to hear what Aiken has to say in this race.”
Sgro added, “It’s incredibly out of touch with North Carolina in 2014 that a candidate thinks this is an appropriate attack. North Carolina voters are going to reject it hard.”
Sgro is a former staffer for Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
qnotes has reached out to Wood via email and phone. She had not responded at publication.
Wood is the owner of an independent political consulting firm, Majority Connections, based in Durham. She describes herself as “Conservative, Christian, Southern” on her Twitter profile.