Emily Cain, the Democratic candidate for the 2nd District seat, is criticizing two Republican-backed ads that say she supported a bill that would body-shame teenage girls, an issue that’s drawing national attention as well as reaction from Maine women’s groups who say the discussion doesn’t belong in politics.

The National Republican Congressional Committee released a radio ad that criticizes L.D. 1886, a bill Cain sponsored in 2007 that would have introduced a weight-screening process in public schools as a way to collect data on childhood obesity trends.

The screening would have been confidential and parents could opt out of the program, but those details are left out of the radio ad and a similar television ad released Monday.

The ad suggests the legislation Cain supported would have violated the privacy rights of students, “including teenage girls,” while painting Cain as a lawmaker who favors unnecessary government regulations.

The Maine Democratic Party issued a news release Thursday calling on Cain’s opponent, incumbent Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, to denounce the national ads, but his campaign did not respond to requests for comment Friday. A recent University of New Hampshire poll by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram found Poliquin leading Cain by 10 percentage points.

Already the ads and Cain’s response, which refers to her own struggles with her weight, have sparked headlines in a number of national publications including New York Magazine, Slate and a British newspaper, the Guardian. The magazine Allure, which is targeted at teenage girls and young women, praised Cain, saying she is “taking a stance every woman can be inspired by.”

The ads also highlight an increase in outside spending on political ads in Maine’s 2nd District, where more than $2.7 million already has been spent by outside groups. In the past seven days, the Republican committee has spent more than $530,000 on ads opposing Cain. VoteVets, a political action committee supporting veterans, also spent more than $500,000 in the last week on an ad targeting Poliquin.

The ads and Cain’s response come just days after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump came under fire for comments about a former beauty pageant contestant whom he called “Miss Piggy” in reference to her weight. In a video obtained by The Washington Post and released Friday, Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation. Ads released by Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign also have criticized Trump for his remarks on women’s bodies.

Both Kelli McCannell, executive director of Hardy Girls Healthy Women, a Waterville-based nonprofit dedicated to the health and well-being of girls and women; and Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, a nonprofit advocating freedom from violence and discrimination and access to health care, were quick to criticize political references to women’s bodies Friday.

“Overall, it feels like election years bring up shallow and insulting references to women, not speaking to what actually matters to the women and girls we speak to and work with year round,” McCannell said in an email. “Women want social change, not ongoing discussions of our appearances.”

The Maine Women’s Lobby has endorsed upcoming referendums on instituting universal background checks and raising the minimum wage, both of which Townsend said are pressing issues for Maine women.

“We’ve issued press releases about both of those, and yet what do I get a phone call about? I get a phone call about bodies,” she said. “It’s very frustrating to think that this is the level on which our political campaigns are conducted.”

filed under: