A former Nevada lawmaker has accused former Vice President Joe Biden of kissing and touching her during a campaign event, an allegation that Biden — a possible presidential contender for 2020 — said he doesn’t recall.
The allegations were laid out in a first-person piece written by Lucy Flores, a Democrat who at the time was running for lieutenant governor of Nevada, in New York Magazine. Flores writes that the event happened in 2014 and she had kept quiet for years thinking her story would be dismissed.
Flores writes that Biden held a rally in the state to help boost voter turnout for her and other Democrats. While they were waiting backstage, “I felt two hands on my shoulders,” Flores writes.
When she looked back, it was Biden.
“I froze,” she writes, then she thought: “Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”
She goes on to talk about her confusion over the alleged incident.
“I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified,” Flores writes. “He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”
Flores said she was then called out on the stage, ending the incident. She says that she told several members of her staff about the incident but didn’t know what to do. Flores writes that she didn’t know if anyone would believe her and wondered if it amounted to “enough of a transgression if a man touches and kisses you without consent, but doesn’t rise to the level of what most people consider sexual assault.”
“The vice-president of the United States of America had just touched me in an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners — and I felt powerless to do anything about it,” she writes.
Flores said she decided to speak out when she saw that Biden was considering a presidential run for 2020. She said that, coupled with stories over the years of Biden’s close contact with women, “became too much to keep bottled up any longer.”
“I’m not suggesting that Biden broke any laws, but the transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn’t even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end,” Flores said. “That imbalance of power and attention is the whole point — and the whole problem.”
Biden’s spokesman said that the former vice president does not recall kissing a Nevada political candidate on the back of her head in 2014.
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Biden spokesman Bill Russo said in a statement Friday, “Neither then, nor in the years since, did he or the staff with him at the time have an inkling that Ms. Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes.”
Russo said Biden “believes Ms. Flores has every right to share her own recollection and reflections, and that it’s a change for the better in our society that she has the opportunity to do so.”
Biden has yet to enter the race but before the allegations were published, a poll found he was favored over the wide pool of Democrats already in the race.
The Quinnipiac University National Poll found 29 percent of Democrats and voters leaning Democratic would favor Biden if the Democratic primary were held today. Biden has not yet announced his candidacy but has hinted at a possible 2020 run.
Biden bested runner up Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders by 10 percentage points.
For years, Biden’s close conduct with women has captured headlines and become known as a trademark move of the former vice president: both hands on someone’s shoulders, a pull in and an intimate forehead-to-forehead moment.
In 2015, Biden was criticized after a close moment with Stephanie Carter, the wife of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, as her husband was being sworn in at the White House.
Footage from the televised event shows Biden, standing behind Stephanie Carter, placing his hands on her shoulders then whispering in her ear.
The incident spurred editorial headlines like, “America Shouldn’t Tolerate ‘Biden Being Biden'” (Time) and The Washington Post gave Biden a “Worst Week in Washington Award,” writing that, “Vice President Biden, for forgetting that ‘Mad Men’ is a TV show, not a guide for modern workplace conduct, you had the worst week in Washington.”
Both Carter and his wife later said they were not offended by Biden’s close contact, explaining they were all good friends.
Flores has been viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party. She was first elected to the Nevada Assembly in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2012.
In 2014, Flores left her Assembly seat to run for lieutenant governor, winning the Democratic nomination. She was defeated in the general election by Republican Mark Hutchison, 60 percent to 34 percent.
Two years later, Flores ran an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, losing in a tough three-way Democratic primary to Ruben Kihuen.
During the campaign, then-RGJ columnist Jon Ralston pointed out that her website lifted content directly from Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“Flores seemed surprised when I confronted her with the passages, saying, ‘At the time I had volunteers help with most of this, so I would have to try to get to the bottom of this,'” Ralston wrote.
“But she also told me, ‘I of course approved the language, but unless I did some sort of research on the language, I would have no way of knowing if phrases or sentences were coming from elsewhere.'”
Contributing: The Associated Press; Ryan Cormier, The News Journal; and Brett McGinness, Reno Gazette Journal