- New Jersey Republican John Carman shared a meme this year mocking the Women’s March.
- Carman was defeated Tuesday by 32-year-old Ashley Bennett, a first-time female candidate who ran in opposition to his comments.
Republican John Carman sat on the nine-member Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders in New Jersey when he shared a meme in January mocking the Women’s March against newly inaugurated President Donald Trump.
“Will the women’s march end in time for them to cook dinner?” the meme read.
On Tuesday, Carman, a veteran public official who has been in office for nearly three decades, was unseated by a woman — 32-year-old Ashley Bennett, a political rookie and the youngest person on the county’s ticket.
Bennett went to bed on November 8, 2016 confident that she would wake up to the country’s first female president. But her excitement made it impossible to fall asleep, so she got up at 2:30 a.m. to watch the returns.
“I turned on CNN and I just saw the map go red,” Bennett told Business Insider. “My stomach dropped. I was devastated. I just couldn’t understand what happened.”
Tuesday’s elections were critical for a Democratic Party that’s been marred by division and infighting since Donald Trump upended conventional wisdom and was elected to the presidency a year ago.
And even as Democrats galvanised against the president on social media and in massive protests across the country, a series of special elections earlier this year delivered them a brutal, embarrassing blow.
In Georgia, political neophyte Jon Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel in the most heavily funded congressional race in US history, which the news media framed as a referendum on Trump.
In Montana, Greg Gianforte defeated his Democratic challenger, Rob Quist, even after admitting to physically assaulting a reporter on the campaign trail at a time when Trump was being criticised for his vocal attacks on the press.
‘There were so many people … they were so angry’
But the tide began to turn in Democrats’ favour on Tuesday night.
New Jersey and Virginia elected Democratic governors. Danica Roem, the country’s first openly-transgender lawmaker, was elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates. Charlotte, North Carolina elected its first-ever female, black mayor. The residents of Hoboken, New Jersey elected Ravi Bhalla, a lifelong attorney and New Jerseyan, to be the city’s first Sikh mayor.
“It has to start at the local level,” Bennett said, reflecting on Tuesday’s events and her own unexpected victory.
She didn’t get personally involved in politics until the Women’s March in January. “I was beyond moved at the amount of people who were there,” she said. “There were so many races and nationalities and religions. I was inspired.”
A few days after the march, Bennett, who is pursuing a dual Master’s degree in public health and business administration, was writing a paper on community health analysis for Atlantic County when she came across Carman’s meme mocking it.
“I was so mad. I was like, ‘Really? It’s 2017. Why are we doing this?'” she recalled thinking. “The presidential election was already as divisive as it could be. We need our local elected officials to tell us we’re going to be OK regardless of who’s in the White House.”
Bennett wrote Carman a letter after she saw the meme, in which she outlined all the issues she believed the county faced. “How do you have time, with all the issues going on in our community, to be posting this stuff on social media?” she wrote to him. She said she never got a response.
Bennett was also one of scores of women who showed up at the county board freeholders meeting in January to protest Carman. The meeting was “packed,” she recalled, with lines going outside the building.
“There were so many people, and I remember these young girls, they were getting up to speak and they were so filled with anxiety,” she said. “They were so angry.”
Though Carman admitted, when the protesters showed up, that his decision to post the meme was “a bad choice and in bad taste,” he did not apologise.
Instead, he said he was “blessed” to be surrounded by female relatives who he said were strong enough not to be offended by the “joke.” Several protesters, including Bennett, walked out as he made the remark. He did not apologise until several days later.
Bennett said she decided to run for Carman’s seat the minute she left that meeting.
“I just wanted to push back against that hurtful rhetoric, those archaic ideals, and speak for those who feel they don’t really have a voice anymore,” she said.
‘It’s definitely been an experience’
Carman had been on the county’s board of freeholders for three years before he was unseated on Tuesday. Before that, he served as an Egg Harbour Township committeeman for 19 years and as deputy mayor in 1996.
He has been a public official since at least 1989, according to his biography on the county’s website.
Bennett said it was an uphill climb running against an opponent with so much local name recognition and a lengthy record of public service. In addition to being scrutinised for being less experienced than Carman, Bennett also became a target of a white supremacist website when she criticised Carman after a photo emerged of him this summer, in which he was wearing a patch shaped like New Jersey with a Confederate flag covering the state’s southern half.
“It’s definitely been an experience,” she said. “And then to have this outcome, one that I never, ever expected, it’s incredible. I am beyond speechless.”
Several grassroots progressive groups, including “Run For Something,” an organisation whose goal is to recruit younger, progressive candidates to run for public office, threw their support behind her candidacy.
According to The Inquirer, Carman was confident he would be re-elected on Tuesday and that voters would see past his negative media coverage. He did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Bennett was at the Atlantic County Country Club with her friends, family, colleagues, and campaign volunteers on Tuesday night when the returns came in. She saw that she was up by a certain number of votes, but was unsure of what the final outcome would be.
Bennett ended up winning the seat by 1,000 votes out of over 14,000 that were cast.
While she’s excited she won, Bennett said she’s happier for her mother.
“Today’s her 60th birthday, and she said she wanted this as her gift,” she said. “I’m thrilled I was able to give it to her.”
Alex Lockie contributed reporting.
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