Sex and politics have always been—to put it gently—intertwined. Those notable in their political lives sometimes get caught up in sex stories. But occasionally, those known for their sex lives become the heart of political stories. November's odd-year elections are no different.
In New Jersey, Stepfanie Velez-Gentry is running in a down ballot General Assembly race that typically receives little or no media attention. That was the case until last week, when PolitickerNJ.com revealed that her small business background was hosting "Nookie Parties" where she sells sex toys to women and couples.
That led to numerous articles about Velez-Gentry around the country and, according to Velez-Gentry, her Democratic opponent trying to use the story to attack her. But those attacks, she tells Politics, have fallen flat and she has gotten a lot of positive exposure from the whole episode.
"It's never been a secret," Velez-Gentry said of her business. "The Democratic Party thought they could throw it in my face but it's been awesome. It really has. Everyone has been very supportive."
Velez-Gentry isn't the first candidate who has blended sex and politics. The others, though, tend to be a bit more conspicuous. Porn star Stormy Daniels has been long-rumored to be considering a challenge to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Adult entertainment mogul Larry Flynt has also dabbled in politics, running for California governor in 2007. Flynt billed himself as "the smut peddler who cares."
Other pols with unconventional backgrounds have been successful. Jesse Ventura's background as a professional wrestler didn't keep him from becoming mayor of Minnesota.
In the same vein, former pro-wrestling chief executive Linda McMahon (R) is mounting a serious campaign to take on Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) this year.
Candidates like Velez-Gentry raise the question of how to approach campaigns with candidates who have atypical resumes. Consultants seem to agree that anything that will gain the candidate notoriety is a good thing no matter what.
"One of the main rules is win or lose, good or bad, spell my name right," said veteran Republican consultant Scott Cottington. "Any hook you can use to increase your name awareness is generally welcome."
Even if a candidate is well known for something bad, that's OK. "If they know my name, I have time to fix it," Cottington said. "In this extremely cluttered world, just being noticed is a huge advantage."
In that sense, Velez-Gentry is currently reaping the benefits of her background becoming a large story. Kevin Ehret, her campaign manager, said they raised $1,000 over the weekend from donors as far away as Utah. "We haven't received any negative feedback," he said.
A unique resume may also be an asset in the current political atmosphere, said Phil Molfese, a Democratic consultant. "Having an unconventional background can come in handy," he said, "particularly in a climate like this where there is a significant anti-incumbent settlement out there."
Velez-Gentry said that she discussed her business with the local GOP before she got into the race and received the party's go-ahead. She also blamed Democrats for trying to make it an issue now, in the final month of the race. That effort, she said, has backfired.
"They wanted to slap me in the face with this," she said, "but it has bitten them in the butt because it has gotten us all of this national media attention. It has done a 360 and blew up in their face."
Jeremy P. Jacobs is the staff writer at Politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org