Mississippi gubernatorial candidate and state Rep. Robert Foster and his wife Heather Foster
Image: foster4ms/Facebook

One Mississippi gubernatorial candidate is taking a page out of Vice President Mike Pence’s book, denying a local reporter the opportunity to follow his campaign—specifically because she’s a woman and he apparently can’t risk being seen with her.

According to Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell, Mississippi state Rep. Robert Foster declined a 15-hour ride-along her, citing “the optics.”

In an article about the bizarre, sexist decision, Campbell wrote that in two phone calls with Foster’s campaign director, Colton Robison, she was told a male coworker would have to come with her, “because they believed the optics of the candidate with a woman, even a working reporter, could be used in a smear campaign to insinuate an extramarital affair.”

Campbell wrote that the publication requested a ride-along with Foster’s campaign in late June, and that Robison contacted her on July 7 with an opportunity to join Foster on an upcoming trip. At the end of the call, Robison said he had a “weird request” and asked if she could bring a male colleague. On July 9, after Campbell and her editor agreed the request was sexist, she told Robison she would be doing the ride-along alone. Robison said her attendance would look bad, even if she wore her press badge the entire time.

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When Campbell pressed the issue, Robison simply said they “can’t risk it.” From Mississippi Today:

“The only reason you think that people will think I’m having a (improper) relationship with your candidate is because I am a woman,” this reporter said.

Robison said the campaign simply “can’t risk it.”

“Perception is everything. We are so close to the primary. If (trackers) were to get a picture and they put a mailer out, we wouldn’t have time to dispute it. And that’s why we have to be careful,” Robinson said Tuesday afternoon by phone.

[...]

“They stand there with a phone in our face,” Robison said.

“I wish it weren’t the way it is. Unfortunately, this is the game we’re playing right now.”

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In the article, Campbell details her previous coverage of the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, including breaking multiple stories and conducting numerous interviews with Foster. But even beyond her professional qualifications, she should have been allowed to participate in the ride-along unaccompanied and shouldn’t have had to pull out a laundry list of stories to prove her worth.

This behavior, even if just a decision made by the people trying to make him look good, doesn’t seem too out of line for Foster. Campbell wrote that he’s appealed to right-wing conservatives in his campaign and has strongly supported the Mississippi state flag, which features a Confederate battle emblem. He’s also known for having gone head-to-head with liberals on social media.

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I mean, here he is tweeting a Fox News article shaming Starbucks.

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On his Twitter account, Foster responded to Campbell’s story by saying that he and his wife agreed to avoid any situation that could read as suspicious.

“I am sorry Ms. Campbell doesn’t share these views, but my decision was out of respect of my wife,” Foster wrote.

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Whatever you say, dude.