A day after a tepid debate on Spanish television between the top Socialist and Popular Party (PP) candidates to the European Parliament, the real clash took place.
Miguel Arias Cañete, the PP contender in the May 25 vote, claimed that he deliberately held back during the debate so as not to overwhelm his opponent, Elena Valenciano.
“A debate between a man and a woman is a very complicated thing,” said Cañete, 64, on a television program called Espejo Público, which airs on the private network Antena 3. “If you abuse your intellectual superiority, you end up looking like a sexist intimidating a defenseless woman.”
The former agriculture minister added that he deliberately contained himself during the debate, because “if I act like myself, I can get scary, even to myself. I would move in for the kill.”
If I act like myself, I can get scary, even to myself. I would move in to kill”
His opponent, Socialist Elena Valenciano, 53, swiftly replied via Twitter: “So then what? What do we do? We leave women out of the debate?”
The secretary general of the Socialist Party, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, added a message of his own: “Cañete: the sexism of the bad loser.”
Later on Friday, the conservative politician tried to play down his earlier statements with his own Twitter comments. He cited three female PP politicians as examples of the fact that his “party has always believed in women.”
This is not the first time that Cañete has made a controversial statement about women. During Thursday’s debate, Valenciano reminded him of statements he made in 2000 while he was still agriculture minister to the effect that “field irrigation must be handled the way you handle a woman.”
The mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella, was one of the first members of the PP to come out in Cañete’s defense. “We all make lots of statements, and some are more appropriate than others,” said Botella, who has a long track record of unfortunate remarks of her own.