A Republican candidate in Arkansas says her opponent for a state Senate seat, Democrat Greg Leding, physically intimidated her after a debate earlier this week, getting in her face, spewing profanities, and promising her she will be defeated.
At least one Republican Party employee has called the altercation at the Fayetteville forum an “assault,” the Arkansas Times reported, as Leding, the incumbent, put his hand on challenger Dawn Clemence before stomping off.
Leding immediately issued the following statement, according to 40/29 News:
My opponent called out to me from the stage. So she wouldn’t have to lean down to talk, I joined her on the stage. I apologize for patting her shoulder as we parted.
Arkansas Republicans were not satisfied with Leding’s explanation and demanded a more sincere apology.
Our Executive Director Sarah Jo Reynolds has called on the @ArkDems to take action against @gregleding's display of unprofessional behavior, and has also demanded an apology from him for assaulting Republican Candidate Dawn Clemence. #arpx #ARGOP pic.twitter.com/2idW8uxxgs
— Arkansas GOP (@ARGOP) October 24, 2018
Leding tried again with a statement that was distributed by the Democratic Party:
After the forum, I left the stage. My opponent made some additional comments to me, so I hopped back up on stage, joining her at its edge. I’ve worked very hard to serve all the people who live in the district I represent—work that has consistently included legislation and advocacy for women, teachers, students, firefighters, working families, and more—and that work’s been misrepresented in this campaign. I was frustrated, but it’s not acceptable to act on that. I apologize to Mrs. Clemence.
In these closing weeks of the campaign, I’ll continue to hold public events, keep walking door to door, and keep working hard for all Arkansans.
Not impressed, Clemence responded with the following statement:
When you encroached on my personal space, pointed your finger in my face, and placed your hands on me, you demeaned the office you currently hold and the one in which you seek.
Clemence released a copy of her notes about the altercation that she wrote down when she got home. She said Leding stormed off the stage after the debate and then came back to confront her, pointing his finger and calling her “a f*cking liar.” She wrote that when she said he needed to defend his record, he jumped up on the stage and “blew up in my face.”
He used his body to move her backwards, she wrote. “Very threatening!”
— Trent Garner For Senate (@Garner4Senate) October 24, 2018
On Thursday, two days after the event, Democratic Party Chair Michael John Gray also apologized and chastised Leding for his intimidating behavior.
Representative Greg Leding’s behavior at Tuesday’s candidate forum was unacceptable. While Representative Leding has long been an effective advocate for his district, he should not have allowed frustrations from the campaign get the better of him. Rep. Leding has done the right thing by apologizing to Mrs. Dawn Clemence. We shouldn’t be defined by our mistakes, but how we respond to them.
Our party and our candidates have always championed a higher standard for Arkansas, and in turn we should hold ourselves accountable to that standard.
Senator Tom Cotton also reacted to the altercation on Twitter:
Good for @dawnclemence – not only winning debate, but also standing up to @gregleding sore-loser intimidation tactics. Dawn is tough, will back down from no one in legislature. Washington County, go vote for Dawn! https://t.co/LzCOUzR2A4
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) October 24, 2018
Two cell phone videos show the altercation after the debate, 40/29 News reported.
The best video was shot by the Leding campaign for Facebook Live. The other video was shot by Republican Justice of the Peace candidate Todd Crane.
Clemence told 40/29 News that Leding swore at her and got in her space.
“I’m looking at someone who is right in my space and he is reaching for my face,” Clemence said. “I don’t know what he is going to do and he puts his hand on my shoulder.”
“Would my opponent have gotten up in my face, pushed back on me, and threatened me with vulgar language and intimidation if I was a man? Would he have done that? I don’t think so,” Clemence said.
Leding told 40/29 he apologized and was frustrated with how Clemence had characterized his record in the Arkansas House of Representatives. He said he wasn’t trying to intimidate Clemence.
“I am a tall guy, I certainly wasn’t trying to be intimidating,” Leding said. “There was a lot of frustration for both of us.”
“It was sort of a small space, I hopped up on stage, we were near the edge of the stage, just wanted to make sure neither one of us was too close, so it was close quarters,” Leding said.
Clemence told 40/29 that he hadn’t reached out to her to apologize.