Democrat David Vogel said his Facebook posts name-calling Republicans and mocking the religious should have no bearing on his candidacy for the Florida Legislature.
He called the posts his "analysis" of the Republican Party. He said they're just friendly exchanges.
The 49-year-old lawyer, who is opposing Republican incumbent Chris Latvala for the Florida House District 67 seat, said harshly worded posts labeling some as mindless, poorly educated and "bigoted piece(s) of trash" actually go back a decade on his page.
"They were part of long, ongoing conversations that I was having with friends … conversations extended over years," he told the Tampa Bay Times. "I try to talk to Republicans with rational discourse, but that doesn't work because they are so stuck in their ways."
The posts, he said, are the only way to get the attention of Republicans.
In a post dated June 3, Vogel linked to a video titled "Bishop explains why the church invented hell." He said the clip supports his view that religion has been used to control masses of people for thousands of years — a stance he says he's taken heat for from what he called religious Republicans.
"It's no coincidence that those to whom I refer are overwhelmingly rethuglikants," Vogel wrote in the post, fusing together the words Republican and thug. "It takes that kind of lack of mental capacity to believe anything else."
In a more recent post made Oct. 1, Vogel attacked supporters of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
"Every non-Republican knows at least one person who insists that he or she is not a bigoted piece of trash merely because he or she is voting for Trump," he wrote. "I don't accept that concept."
He also wrote that he has parted ways with Trump's supporters because "there is no room in my existence for such xenophobia and abject hypocrisy."
Vogel also used sexually explicit language to describe people who favor Fox News and called Republicans "mindless drone followers" in two posts made on March 1. A little more than a month later, on April 14, he called Trump supporters "poorly educated."
"I don't feel bad for calling them names," Vogel said. "Sticks and stones."
Latvala, who was elected to the Legislature in 2014, provided screenshots of the posts to the Times. He said they render Vogel unfit to represent the district, which covers large portions of Clearwater and Largo and is fairly split between Democratic and Republican voters.
"(The posts) show his character and what he thinks about people that are different from him," said Latvala, 34. "You can't work with people you consider pieces of trash. You can't work with people you are going to call vile names."
But Vogel argued that, because his Facebook page is locked tight with privacy settings, the posts should not be subject to public scrutiny. He said the posts got out only because Latvala tricked him, asking his friends to send Vogel Facebook friend requests so he could gain access to Vogel's personal page.
Vogel said his opponent "hacked" and "reached" into his personal life. Latvala says that what he did to get the posts was fair and that voters from both parties deserved to know what they said.
"What I did was kind of campaign 101 … so it is kind of to be expected," Latvala said. "When you automatically disqualify a group of people or look down on them, that should be brought to light."
If elected on Nov. 8, Vogel said he would stop mocking people who disagree with him — both in public and private.
"My responsibility would become so great, it would be a new level of existence for me," he said. "If I were to actually be a public official, there is no way I would use that type of language in private or in public."
"But I am not a public official yet."
Latvala called that "ludicrous."
"You can't say that once you get elected you are going to change," he said. "You definitely can't totally disregard a segment of the population and electorate and say you'll be able to work with them after the election."
Contact Megan Reeves at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mreeves_tbt.