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Kansas Candidate Who Admitted to Revenge Porn Is Back in the Race

The 19-year-old candidate for the Kansas Legislature who admitted to sending revenge porn and bullying girls online when he was in middle school said Tuesday that he was breaking his pledge to withdraw as the Democratic nominee.

The candidate, Aaron Coleman, a dishwasher and community college student, defeated a seven-term incumbent, Stan Frownfelter, earlier this month by 14 votes in the Democratic primary for the 37th District seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. The final count was 823 to 809.

Days after Mr. Coleman won the unlikely victory, he withdrew, saying he wanted to focus on caring for his family. Democratic state leaders had distanced themselves from him after he won and said they worried that his past actions and his inappropriate comments as the primary election approached could hurt the party’s chances in key races.

But on Tuesday, Mr. Coleman said he was back in the race. In a statement posted from his Twitter account, he said that he had been under attack from the moment he won. “I obviously did not expect to have my entire personal life, especially what I did in middle school, put under that kind of national microscope,” he said. He said supporters had urged him to stay in the race and had told him that “all of us have sinned.”

Mr. Coleman criticized “corporate Democrats” on Tuesday and said voters had known about his troubled past when they voted for him. In June, two months before the primary, he said that allegations that he had harassed, bullied and threatened girls online when he was in middle school were accurate. He told one sixth-grade girl that she was fat and that she should kill herself. He circulated nude images of another girl, 13 at the time, after she refused to send him more images.

After Mr. Coleman won the primary race, Democratic leaders, who hoped to capture enough seats in the Kansas Legislature to break the Republicans’ majority, said they hoped he would pull out. A spokeswoman for Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, said that Mr. Coleman was “not fit” to serve in the Legislature. Ms. Kelly and other Democratic leaders said they were supporting Mr. Frownfelter, who said on Tuesday, through his campaign manager, that he would seek re-election as a write-in candidate in the general election.

In recent months, in a social media post, Mr. Coleman wrote that he would “laugh and giggle” if a former Republican state lawmaker died of the coronavirus, according to The Kansas Reflector, a nonprofit news organization.

Some on the left, however, defended his candidacy, saying his middle school misconduct should not outweigh the anti-abortion-rights stance and other positions of the incumbent he had defeated. Mr. Coleman’s platform includes support for universal health care and the legalization of marijuana.

Writing in The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald criticized Democratic leaders for their contempt for Mr. Coleman, who said he had reached out to his middle school victims in attempts to make amends.

“All of this raises profound and important questions about whether adults should be judged by the actions they undertook when they were a child, particularly when they have apologized and expressed remorse,” Mr. Greenwald wrote.

To formally withdraw from the race, Mr. Coleman would have had to file a petition, stating his reasons, with the secretary of state before Sept. 1. The district Democratic Party committee would then have chosen a replacement.

Maria Cramer contributed reporting.

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