CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (AP) — Republican congressional candidate Brendan Doherty on Thursday hit back against accusations that he isn't a strong supporter of women by attacking incumbent Democratic Rep. David Cicilline for his past as a defense attorney who represented criminals accused of hurting women.
Doherty, former head of the state police, held a news conference at a boxing gym to declare that "the gloves are off" in his race against Cicilline, who was a criminal defense lawyer before going into politics full time in 2002.
"I put bad people in jail. He tries to keep 'em out. That's the difference between me and David Cicilline," he said.
Doherty's comments came a day after the Democratic Party criticized the first-time GOP candidate for opposing the expansion of the federal Violence Against Women Act. Also Wednesday, a group backed by Planned Parenthood held a rally outside a "Women for Doherty" event to call attention to Doherty's opposition to provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which rally organizer Paula Hodges said was an important issue for women's health.
The Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994 to protect women against domestic violence. The law expired in 2011, and the Senate earlier this year passed a bill 68-31 to expand it, adding protections for gay and transgendered people and women assaulted on Indian reservations. But the Republican-controlled House declined to take it up.
Doherty campaign manager Ian Prior said Doherty supports reauthorizing the act with no changes. Prior said a different federal law, the Victims of Crime Act, exists to help groups such as transgendered people who are the subject of violent crime, and "if Congress wants to increase funding to help other victims, then they should fund it through VOCA."
"The issue he has is that this is a bit of political grandstanding," Prior said.
Doherty on Thursday highlighted his work combating violence against women during a 28-year career with the state police. He said Cicilline was unqualified to criticize him on the issue because Cicilline defended men in the 1980s and 1990s who were convicted of hurting or killing women.
"Criminal defense lawyers who represent the very worst of society shouldn't point the finger at me," Doherty said. "I have been strong on women's issues my whole career."
Doherty is anti-abortion, though he supports allowing women to have abortions in the case of rape or incest or if her health is at risk. He said that he doesn't believe the federal government should pay for abortions but that he still supports federal money for organizations such as Planned Parenthood for services including cancer screening and birth control.
Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers said no one was questioning Doherty's past commitment to women. What's important is what he would do if elected, Hyers said.
"I'm talking about what he would do in Congress. That is what matters to Rhode Island," he said, adding that every female Republican senator voted for the expansion of the Violence Against Women Act. "He has chosen to side with Republican House leadership."
The National Organization for Women on Thursday criticized Doherty's choice of a boxing gym as a venue for a news conference about domestic violence, saying the venue and language such as "the gloves are off" showed a lack of sensitivity.
Prior said the venue was chosen to show Doherty has fought for women his whole career and will continue to do so. About two dozen women attended the news conference to support Doherty.