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No Laughing Matter: Ad Targets DFLer's Joke During Sex Assault Debate

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A Minnesota House re-match between a veteran lawmaker and his Republican rival is getting more heated.

That's because House Republicans are behind a campaign commercial aimed at the opponent's past behavior. It's seen as a key race as Republicans strive to hold on to their 12-seat majority.

But what began as a lawmaker's poor attempt at humor is no laughing matter. In House district 49A, incumbent DFL State Rep. Ron Erhardt might have the edge with yard signs dotting his Edina neighborhoods.

But it's a race where Republican leaders hope a simple television ad will tip the scale to their favor.

"I think it's really disturbing and upsetting," says House Republican Campaign Committee leader, Ben Golnik.

Golnik says the HRCC is spending tens of thousands of dollars on a 30-second spot now airing on local cable TV.

The commercial opens with video of a woman saying, "My name is Pat Maahs, and I'm the victim of sexual assault."

Maahs was in the house gallery back in the 2015 session as lawmakers debated changes to the state's sexual assault laws. Specifically, they looked at expanding the crime to include the use of bodily fluids.

It was inspired by the outrage voiced after a co-worker at a Twin Cities hardware store ejaculated into Maah's coffee cup.

The ad captures Erhardt's disturbing antics while speaking on the proposed legislation on the house floor.

He is seen licking a coffee cup in his hand as he addresses other lawmakers.

In the commercial, Maahs is heard saying, "(Erhardt) laughed so uncontrollably he couldn't finish the statement he was going to make."

Golnik defends the HRCC's use of the ad, saying it goes to the issue of the representative's character. And he points to Erhardt's other past behavior - like when he wore a stethoscope and lab coat to make light of the bird flu outbreak in Minnesota.

Erhardt later apologized for that show of his attempted humor.

"I think for the people of Edina, it really cuts to the judgement and sensibilities of who they are sending to represent them in St. Paul," Golnik said.

With the TV spot now airing in the district, Erhardt was asked to comment on the commercial. Through the House Democratic leadership, he released a written statement:

"Ms. Maahs was a victim of sexual assault. I voted yes on the bill that made this a crime because it was the right thing to do. In the course of the debate I made an inappropriate joke given the serious issue of sexual assault. I apologize to Ms. Maahs for my inappropriate comments."

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