01:23 - Source: CNN
Candidate defends controversial campaign ad

Story highlights

Nessel's video has generated buzz since it was posted on YouTube

The Democrat is running to be Michigan's attorney general

Washington CNN  — 

One Michigan Democrat running for office has a suggestion for how to end sexual harassment.

Vote for the candidate “who doesn’t have a penis,” Dana Nessel, a Democrat running to be Michigan’s attorney general, suggests in a new campaign ad.

“If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that we need more women in positions of power, not less,” she says. “So when you’re choosing Michigan’s next attorney general, ask yourself this: Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn’t have a penis? I’d say so.”

In the ad, Nessel outlines what she promises not to do if she’s elected. “I will not sexually harass my staff, and I won’t tolerate it in your workplace either,” she says. “I won’t walk around in a half-open bathrobe. And I’ll continue to take all sex crimes seriously, just as I did as a prosecutor.”

Former US Attorney Pat Miles Jr. is also seeking the Democratic nomination for Michigan attorney general. On the Republican side, state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker is running for the post. The current attorney general, Republican Bill Schuette, is term-limited and has announced his candidacy for Michigan’s governor.

Nessel’s ad comes as sexual harassment allegations against powerful men in politics, business and the media continue to mount, most recently against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and Democratic Sen. Al Franken, of Minnesota, and Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan.

“It was the accumulation of all these powerful men being exposed as serial sexual harassers, while hearing constantly on the campaign trail that my gender was a political liability – that really motivated me to do this,” Nessel told CNN by email.

Nessel said it was important to address sexual harassment because it’s “a very real, very serious issue that millions of Michigan residents face. And even if you’re not the target of harassment, it can impact your home, your work, your family.”

Nessel is known as the lawyer who helped strike down Michigan’s gay marriage ban. Her new ad has garnered a lot of attention, racking up about 50,000 views on YouTube and an outpouring of positive feedback.

“THANK YOU for your encouragement, high fives & for spreading the word. Even if that word was penis,” she joked on Twitter.

“My team and I knew that people would respond to some honest, bold conversation about a really important issue – saying the things that no one has been willing to say – and we hoped we could get it in front of enough people to make an impact,” Nessel said of reactions to the ad. “It’s safe to say that we had high expectations, but this definitely beat them.”

Although there has been some backlash, Nessel said it was to be expected. “There are some people who don’t appreciate that I said ‘penis.’”

The ad comes several weeks after Election Day, which this year brought historic wins for minority and LGBT candidates across the US in the few states holding contests. Women – including a handful of first-time candidates – swept battleground states and districts.

As CNN reported earlier this month, about 19,000 women contacted Emily’s List about standing for election since the election of Trump. Advocacy group She Should Run has had about 15,000 inquiries since the 2016 election.

Run for Something, an organization formed by former Hillary Clinton campaign staffers with the goal of recruiting progressive millennials to run for office, put together its first-ever National Run for Office Day this month.

Nessel, who is part of the wave of female candidates, ended her ad by emphasizing that she’s a woman, adding, “That’s not a liability, that’s an asset.”