SABATTUS — Controversial Republican candidate Leslie Gibson, who drew fire for insulting several teen survivors of the Florida school shooting, is abandoning his effort to win a state House seat this year.

“I am not walking away with my head hung low. I am walking away with my head held high,” Gibson said Friday.

Gibson said he made the decision after talking with his family, praying and discussing it with friends and colleagues, including Thomas Martin Jr., another Republican contender who entered the 57th District race Thursday.

“It’s the best thing for everybody,” Gibson said.

Gibson has been under fire this week for comments he made online about the teens in Florida who survived a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. He criticized two of them who were leading an effort to increase restrictions on gun sales in the wake of the Feb. 14 killings, calling one a “skinhead lesbian,” and another a “bald-faced liar.”

The 18-year-old student whom Gibson singled out, Emma Gonzalez, is among the students speaking out from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre there that left 17 of her classmates dead, she emerged as a leader in students’ fight to make assault rifles harder to come by.


“There is nothing about this skinhead lesbian that impresses me and there is nothing that she has to say unless you’re a frothing at the mouth moonbat,” Gibson wrote.

Gibson said in another tweet that calling her a survivor, as many have done, is disingenuous because she “was in a completely different part of the school” when students were gunned down.

Gibson apologized in a later tweet, saying, “I would like to extend to you my most sincere apology for how I addressed you. It was wrong and unacceptable. You are doing work that is important to you. I would like to extend my hand in friendship and understanding to you.”

Gibson said that during his career in the military, he took an oath “to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

“Because of this,” he said, “I am very passionate about protecting our constitutional rights from those who seek their elimination. It was not appropriate to single out the Parkland students, but I stand firm in my defense of our constitutional rights.”

David Hogg, the other teen Gibson insulted, tweeted on Wednesday, urging someone to run against Gibson.


“Who wants to run against this hate-loving politician?” asked Hogg, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “I don’t care what party. JUST DO IT.”

Hogg has been an outspoken advocate for taking on the National Rifle Association.

The incident that apparently set off Gibson was an appearance by Hogg on CNN in which the Parkland student lashed out at NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch. He accused her of working with gun manufacturers to control Congress.

“She owns these congressmen. She can get them to do things,” Hogg told the network. “She doesn’t care about these children’s lives,” he said.

Gibson, who retired from the U.S. Navy, for years has used social media to comment on immigration, defend conservative politicians and promote Republican policies. He has a history of retweeting stridently anti-immigrant comments, often from accounts in Maine.

Last month, he explained on Facebook after “the tragedy that occurred in Florida” that there has been “a lot of misinformation, and flat out lies” circulated by “the liberal media and leftist anti-Second Amendment groups.”


As a lifetime member of the NRA, he said, he stands with the group’s efforts “to protect and preserve our Second Amendment rights,” which he said are “under attack.”

“The NRA and its members are being blamed for the Florida tragedy,” Gibson wrote. “Such blame is patently misdirected. The blame rests solely with the person who committed these murders.”

He made his social media accounts private after the uproar over his insults aimed at the teens.

Gibson had been cruising toward an unopposed election in the district, which includes Sabattus and Greene. But his comments stirred both Martin and Democrat Eryn Gilchrist to join the contest.

Gilchrist filed the required paperwork on Thursday to run for the 57th District seat.

She said she never anticipated running for office but felt so “horrified and embarrassed” at the thought of Gibson representing her that she decided to jump in.


“I would really have been happy to partake in representative democracy by voting,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist, 28, a Connecticut native who works for a medical device company based in Bowdoin, is a 2013 graduate of Bates College.

Martin said on Thursday he felt compelled to run after he read Gibson’s strident comments about the two Florida students.

Martin, a former state senator from Benton, said it is important to have a candidate who represents real Republican values.

“After those recent unfortunate comments, I couldn’t sit back,” Martin said.

Martin, a 52-year-old contractor, said that people have to realize “that our words and actions have consequences.”

Gibson said he hopes his departure from the race will bring things back to normal.

He said he’s going to try to “get some peace and quiet in our lives” after the turmoil of recent days.

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