A Facebook post Wednesday exposed a personal undercurrent in the race for the state House seat in the 81st District.
Huntingdon County Republican Committee member Tom Ritchey put a post on his Facebook profile that read, “Lean forward, we’re not done.” The post depicted two male stick figures having sex and was styled using symbols from President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.
“Reminds me of our District 81 campaign and our Democrat running like a mad man,” Ritchey wrote. It was posted at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday but was removed later in the day.
Rep. Mike Fleck came out as Pennsylvania’s first openly gay legislator in December 2012 shortly after being re-elected to a fourth term that year.
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Fleck said he has tried to keep his campaign about the issues, but, he said, the race has been “personal” and attacks and references to his sexuality have occurred. He has received “vile and hateful” emails, and mailers have been sent back with drawings and images superimposed on them, all anonymously, Fleck said.
“People are really passionate about this race, that’s for sure,” Fleck said.
The challenger, Huntingdon County Treasurer Richard Irvin, insists Fleck’s sexual orientation is not an issue but said he thinks about a third of the voters who oppose Fleck say it is.
“You have a third that just very well may have been upset that they felt deceived ... that he was unhonest ... to begin with ... when he announced that he came out right after the election,” Irvin told the Centre Daily Times last week.
The fact that people in the district think Fleck deceived them about his sexuality is upsetting, he said, because no one asked him.
“That’s what bothers me the most, they say I was dishonest,” Fleck said.
Irvin said that he was not aware of the post and that Fleck’s sexuality is not an issue for him.
He said he has tried to steer clear of Fleck’s sexuality and expressed a desire to stick to the issues.
Ritchey could not be reached for comment.
Huntingdon County Republican Committee Chairman C. Arnold McClure said he could not comment on the post because he did not see it. Posting such an image was “out of character” for Ritchey, he said.
McClure also described the campaign as “nasty,” the worst he has seen in the district.
“It’s a shame that this race couldn’t be about the issues,” McClure said. “It’s a shame.”
Irvin also said the campaign has taken a personal turn and that he has received negative letters and feedback on Facebook.
Although Fleck is the Republican incumbent, he lost the GOP primary in May and is running on the Democratic side of the ballot for the general election after having won that party’s primary as a write-in candidate.