Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan on Friday fired a campaign adviser who gave a profane interview bashing Democratic opponent Cory Booker and questioning his sexuality.
Lonegan said in a statement that campaign consultant Rick Shaftan's comments to the political website Talking Points Memo were "distasteful and offensive."
"Mr. Shaftan's comments are not reflective of my views or that of my campaign," he said of his longtime adviser, who was dismissed less than a week before the Oct. 16 special election to fill the seat previously held by the late Democrat Frank Lautenberg.
Shaftan's comments were about a Twitter exchange between Booker and a Portland, Ore., stripper that became public last month. In the exchange, Booker, the mayor of Newark, responded to a message in which the stripper said the West Coast loves him by saying the East Coast loves her.
"And by the East Coast, I mean me," Booker said.
Shaftan told the website that Booker's words were "like what a gay guy would say to a stripper" and that he should have been more salacious and complimented her breasts.
"To me, if I was single and you know like some stripper was tweeting me, I might take advantage of the perks of the office," Shaftan was quoted as saying.
Booker, who's single, has ducked questions about his sexuality, saying it shouldn't matter to voters.
A spokeswoman for Booker said Friday blasted Shaftan's comments as "disgraceful, demeaning and beneath even the incredibly low bar set by the Lonegan campaign thus far."
Shaftan initially told The Star-Ledger that he was quoted accurately and that he did not believe the comments should be considered newsworthy.
But he later tweeted, "I apologize to Steve Lonegan and his supporters if any statements I have made have hurt his candidacy, and do not want these comments or my presence in this campaign to serve as a distraction to his efforts to win this election and save our nation from the radical left-wing policies of Barack Obama and Cory Booker."
This isn't the first time during the campaign that the topic has arisen. In August, Lonegan said on a Newsmax talk show that it was strange that Booker wouldn't refute rumors he's gay.
"It's kind of weird. As a guy I personally like being a guy," said Lonegan, who referenced a 2012 interview in which Booker said he "likes to go out at 3 o'clock in the morning for a manicure and pedicure."
Shaftan's firing came on a day when gay rights was a major topic in New Jersey as the state Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on whether the state should be forced to legalize same-sex marriage.
Booker is a longtime supporter of gay marriage. Lonegan opposes it and said at a debate this week that he has "mixed feelings" about whether gay couples should raise children.
-- Andrew Siff contributed to this report.