Nebraska Senate hopeful who sent vulgar texts declines exit

FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2018, file photo Chris Janicek pauses in Omaha, Neb. Nebraska Democrats endorsed a new U.S. Senate candidate on Sunday, July 19, 2020, in hopes of pressuring Janicek, their current nominee, to drop out of the race after he sent sexually offensive text messages to a campaign staffer. The party's state central committee voted to back Alisha Shelton, an Omaha mental health therapist, if Janicek withdraws his name from consideration.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Nebraska doubled down Wednesday on his promise to stay in the race, despite growing pressure to drop out after he sent sexually vulgar text messages to a campaign staffer.

Chris Janicek said in a statement that he won't withdraw from the race, and he blamed the state's top Democratic leaders for the party's recent struggles to win statewide office in Republican-dominated Nebraska. His comments came just days after the Nebraska Democratic Party endorsed one of Janicek's former primary opponents, Alisha Shelton, to try to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse.

The endorsement won't necessarily stop Janicek, however, because he already won the Democratic nomination in May. State law doesn't allow party officials to remove him from the ballot without his consent.

“I am a proud Democrat,” Janicek said in a Facebook posting and email sent to local news outlets. “Now is the time for you to realize that I am not going away.”

Janicek has faced widespread criticism and pressure to withdraw ever since a campaign worker revealed the offensive text message to party officials and hired a lawyer.

The messages show that, after he won the nomination, Janicek wrote in a group text to campaign workers that he had gotten into an argument with the female staffer. He then asked whether the campaign should spend money on “getting her laid,” and made crude references to group sex. The woman who was the target of his remarks was accidentally included on the text.

Janicek later admitted to sending the texts and said he repeatedly apologized to the woman. He has argued that, because he's openly gay, his comments shouldn't count as sexual harassment.

Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb has repeatedly called on Janicek bow out of the race and said the party won't offer any of its resources to his campaign. Even before the scandal, Janicek, who owns an Omaha cupcake bakery, wasn’t likely to win because of the state's GOP leanings.

Janicek criticized Kleeb's management of the party, noting that the number of self-identified Democrats in Nebraska has slipped to a record-low 29% of registered voters. He said the party is “drowning in debt” and hasn't won a governor's race since Ben Nelson, who left office in 1999.

“When the party says they offer resources, I'd like to know what they are because our campaign hasn't seen any,” he said in the statement.

A Nebraska Democratic Party spokesman declined to respond to Janicek's criticism, saying Kleeb stands by her original statement calling for him to withdraw.

Janicek's posting on Facebook drew a barrage of negative comments and calls for him to drop out of the race so that Shelton can become the nominee.

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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