A Republican running to be governor of Mississippi declined to allow a reporter to accompany him on a campaign trip just because she is a woman, the reporter said Tuesday night.
According to Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell, she and her colleagues reached out to three Republican gubernatorial candidates to ask for ride-alongs with the candidates. The two others agreed, but when Campbell reached out to state Rep. Robert Foster in late June, Foster’s campaign director replied days later offering to let her accompany Foster on an upcoming 15-hour campaign trip—as long as a male colleague accompanied her.
The campaign director said that he was concerned that if Foster was seen alone with a woman, a smear campaign from another reporter could suggest he was having an extramarital affair. According to Campbell:
“The only reason you think that people will think I’m having [an improper] relationship with your candidate is because I am a woman,” this reporter said.
Robison said the campaign simply “can’t risk it. … Perception is everything. We are so close to the primary. If [trackers who are hired to record rival candidates on campaigns] were to get a picture and they put a mailer out, we wouldn’t have time to dispute it. And that’s why we have to be careful,” Robinson said Tuesday afternoon by phone.
As Campbell notes, Foster, a right-wing conservative campaigning to win over tea-party conservatives, is not favored to win the primary. But a more prominent politician has in recent years made a similar practice more famous. Two years ago, the Washington Post revisited a 2002 interview with then-Rep. Mike Pence in which the current vice president said he declined to dine alone with women other than his wife and declined to attend events with alcohol if his wife could not accompany him. The practice, sometimes known as the Billy Graham rule, is at least intended to strengthen a marriage—a different motivation than Foster’s, as the candidate seems only concerned about the optics of being seen with a professional woman doing her job.
Campbell wrote that she and her editor decided that the request was sexist, and even when Campbell, who is experienced in covering politics, told the campaign director that she would wear a press badge at all times, the campaign director repeated that there were people looking for any damaging photos or videos they could get. “I wish it weren’t the way it is. Unfortunately, this is the game we’re playing right now,” he said.