David Freed, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general, said Tuesday that a controversial series of outside ads attacking his opponent's record on sexual assault cases have hurt him more than they helped.
Speaking to the Inquirer Editorial Board, the Cumberland County district attorney emphasized his campaign played no part in creating the spots, which a nonpartisan fact-checking group dubbed "one of the most blatantly false attacks ads of the political season."
But Freed stopped short of describing the advertisement's claims as inaccurate.
"I didn't stay silent," he said. "I said, it's not my ad. I said I was disappointed in them. It's not the ad I would have chosen to run."
His comments Tuesday came during a joint interview alongside Democratic candidate Kathleen Kane with the editorial board. The session marked the first point of the campaign in which the two rivals have fielded questions together.
And Kane, a former Lackawanna County prosecutor, took the opportunity to go on the attack, using Freed's response to question his integrity.
"Dave did nothing," she said, suggesting she would have denounced similar ads had they attacked Freed. "I want an attorney general that speaks up for truth in their administration."
The ads, which began airing in Philadelphia and Harrisburg last month, have become a focus of the race in its waning weeks.
Paid for by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based nonprofit group that backs GOP candidates in state races, the spots accused Kane of exaggerating her record as a prosecutor and letting two men accused of rape off with light plea agreements.
But according to the nonpartisan FactCheck.org, Kane played almost no role in either case. Within hours of the ad's first airing, her campaign - and the father of a 16-year-old victim in one of the cases - denounced them as "vicious and false attacks."
The committee replaced its original ad with another this month that painted Kane as passing the blame for the plea deals onto others. Despite persistent criticism, the group said it stands by its claims.
As a so-called 527 group, named for the portion of the tax code under which it was created, the Republican State Leadership Committee can accept unlimited donations and is only periodically required to reveal its donors. However, the group is barred from advertising on behalf of or coordinating with any specific candidate.
During Tuesday's joint interview, Kane and Freed also debated gun-control laws, the role of the attorney general in corruption cases, and the office's handling of one of the largest cases in its recent history - the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
Sandusky is the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach who was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison last week for the serial molesting of 10 adolescent boys.
Critics have questioned whether Gov. Corbett, who launched the investigation when he was attorney general, erred in failing to have Sandusky arrested soon after the first accuser came forward. Instead, Corbett's office built the case over a period of years and submitted it to a grand jury - a strategy the governor has defended.
"Never once have I put a case like that in front of a grand jury," said Kane, referring to her years as a child sex-crimes prosecutor. "Never once would it have taken three years to take a pedophile off the streets."
She vowed to investigate Corbett's handling of the case should she be elected.
Freed said he understood public questioning of the handling of the case and pledged to review it, though he acknowledged scenarios in which Corbett's decision made sense.
"I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all solution," he said. "With a high-profile defendant, limited physical evidence and a delayed report, that might be why a grand jury was involved."