GOP candidate who mocked the Women’s March was defeated by a woman who ran because of his comments

    John Carman, a Republican freeholder in New Jersey, shared a meme this year mocking the Women’s March on Washington. Carman was defeated on Tuesday by Democrat Ashley Bennett, a 32-year-old first-time candidate who was inspired by his comments to run.

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 on Washington, held one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“Will the women’s protest end in time for them to cook dinner?” the meme said.

On Tuesday, Carman, a veteran public official, was unseated by Democrat Ashley Bennett, a political rookie who at 32 was the youngest person on the county’s ticket.

Bennett went to bed on November 8, 2016, confident that she would wake up to news that the country had elected its first female president. But her excitement made it impossible to fall asleep, so she got up at 2:30 a.m. to watch the election results.

“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 state and local elections were critical for a Democratic Party that has been marred by division and infighting since Trump upended conventional wisdom by winning the presidency a year ago.

And even as Democrats galvanized against the president on social media and in massive protests across the country, a series of special elections earlier this year had delivered them a brutal, embarrassing blow.

In Georgia, the 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 criticized for his vocal attacks on the press.

‘There were so many people … they were so angry’

womens march

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Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

But the tide began to turn in Democrats’ favor on Tuesday night.

New Jersey and Virginia elected Democratic governors. Danica Roem was elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates to become the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker.

Voters in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the first time elected a black woman as mayor, and those in Hoboken, New Jersey, elected Ravi Bhalla, an attorney and lifelong New Jerseyan, as the city’s first Sikh mayor.

“It has to start at the local level,” Bennett said, reflecting on Tuesday’s events, including her victory.

She didn’t get involved in politics until after the Women’s March.

“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 dual master’s degrees in public health and business administration, was writing a paper on community health analysis for Atlantic County when she came across Carman’s meme.

“I was so mad. I was like: ‘Really? It’s 2017. Why are we doing this?'” she said. “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 in which she outlined 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. She said she never got a response.

Bennett was also one of scores of women who showed up at the freeholders’ meeting in January to protest Carman. It was “packed,” she said, with lines 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.”

Women walk out of meetingafter freeholder declines to apologize, praises own relatives fornot being easily offended. pic.twitter.com/KEcGVJGYRH

pic.twitter.com/KEcGVJGYRHJanuary 24, 2017

Though Carman acknowledged when the protesters showed up that his decision to post the meme was “a bad choice and in bad taste,” he did not apologize.

Instead, he said he was “blessed” to be surrounded by women strong enough not to be offended by the meme. Several protesters, including Bennett, then walked out. He did not apologize 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’

Supporters of Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, celebrate at an election-night rally in Fairfax.

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Supporters of Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, celebrate at an election-night rally in Fairfax.
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Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Carman had been on the county’s board of freeholders for three years. Before that, he was an Egg Harbor Township committeeman for 19 years and the 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 local name recognition and a lengthy record of public service. In addition to scrutiny about her lack of political experience, Bennett became a target of a white-supremacist website after she criticized Carman over a photo 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, whose goal is to recruit younger candidates to run for public office, threw their support behind her candidacy.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Carman was confident he would be reelected on Tuesday and that voters would see past the 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 results came in. She saw that she was leading but was unsure what the outcome would be.

Bennett ended up winning the seat by 1,000 votes out of over 14,000 cast.

While she’s excited she won, Bennett said she was 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.