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Trump accuser’s election bid is about more than #MeToo

Democrat Rachel Crooks talks with undecided voter Peggy Whiley, 62, in Clyde, Ohio, on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Crooks, who during the 2016 election accused Donald Trump of sexually harassing her more than a decade ago, is a first-time candidate trying to win a seat in Ohio's legislature. Trump has denied her accusations. (AP Photo/Angie Wang)

CLYDE, Ohio (AP) — It didn’t take Bonnie Mock more than a minute to begin telling the woman asking for her vote just how fed up she is with President Donald Trump.

“First of all, there’s the way he treats women,” she said.

What she didn’t realize is that Rachel Crooks — standing on her front porch as a first-time candidate for a seat in Ohio’s Legislature — is one of more than a dozen women who came forward during the 2016 campaign to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct.

Most people Crooks meets while campaigning don’t know about that part of her past, and she rarely brings it up. This is how a candidate born out of #MeToo tries to strike a balance in a conservative-leaning district, by sticking to issues such as health care and education funding.

“I’m proud to say I’m a female candidate and I would be the first woman to represent our area, but we don’t go door-to-door talking about the #MeToo movement,” said Crooks.

“I don’t necessarily want to thrust my agenda or my opinions on other people. I want to hear from you first. That’s how I perceive politics should be,” she said.

Crooks, 35, is among a record number of women running for office across the nation, including some first-time candidates motivated by the 2016 election.

Democrats recruited Crooks to run a year after her accusations against Trump surfaced a month before he won the presidency. The former Trump Tower receptionist said she was 22 when she introduced herself to him in 2006 and that he kissed her “directly on the mouth” against her will.

Trump has denied her claims more than once, tweeting in February he didn’t know her. “Never happened! Who would do this in a public space with live security.”

Crooks, who works for a small university in Ohio recruiting international students, first thought the idea of entering politics was crazy.

She worried about putting her life on hold. She wondered if others would again question her motives for telling her story about Trump.

“I could have very much not said another word, but the fact is I had been given this voice,” she said. “And what I did with it was up to me.”

Her campaign has struck a chord with women and Democrats. She’s pulled in a surprising number of donations from every state, the majority in small amounts.

Crooks readily admits she’s in an uphill battle, trying to win in a rural area of Ohio southeast of Toledo that Democrats last held in 1994. But the party thinks she has a shot in what it considers a swing district. Trump easily won the counties within the district in 2016.

Her opponent, Republican Bill Reineke, is seeking a third term and has a name most people know because he and his family own a string of car dealerships in the area.

His campaign didn’t respond to several messages seeking comment about the race. Reineke did say in a statement this year — after Crooks announced her plans to run — that sexual harassment has no place in society and victims deserve to be heard.

“This campaign is not about the individuals running; it’s about the people they would ultimately represent,” he said.

Crooks said when she’s canvassing the small towns that make up Ohio’s 88th House district most people want to talk about health care costs, a lack of high-wage jobs and a controversial wind turbine project in the area.

The president often comes up too. But she doesn’t think she’s being inauthentic by not bringing up her #MeToo moment. “It’s understanding your audience and what issues are a concern to people,” she said.

Several of her tweets and fundraising pitches do mention it though.

“I’m not afraid to speak up for what’s right even when it’s against one of the most powerful men in the world,” she said in one tweet.

A fundraising email sent in mid-October noted it had been two years since she told her story.

Crooks, who grew up in the area she wants to represent, isn’t entirely new to campaigning. She knocked on doors while volunteering for Barack Obama’s two presidential runs and got used to being yelled at and having doors slammed in her face.

She’s fine that most people don’t remember or haven’t heard about her accusations. She said she’s encountered only a few unpleasant comments.

“There’s not a whole lot of people who are just downright rude and nasty, but there have been some,” she said.

One woman, she said, told her just a few weeks ago that “I know who you are” and then started complaining about “all those women who don’t have any evidence.”

“I don’t know that I’ll ever sway that person,” Crooks said.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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