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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Three women allege Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nate Boulton, a major contender in a crowded race with an upcoming primary, touched them inappropriately during separate incidents several years ago, an Iowa newspaper reported Wednesday.

One woman told The Des Moines Register that Boulton, a state senator, repeatedly grabbed her buttocks at a bar in 2015. Two other women told the newspaper he rubbed his clothed crotch against them in separate incidents more than a decade ago.

Two women identified themselves in the Register report. A third woman declined to be named for fear of professional repercussions, according to the newspaper.

Boulton, a Des Moines attorney who was elected to his first term in the Iowa Senate in 2016, did not deny the accusations in a statement released shortly after the report was published. He indicated he had no plans to drop out of the race.

“I want to clearly and unmistakably apologize to the women who have come forward,” he said. “Regardless of the difference in my memory or the context of the situation, it is not my place to disqualify what these women felt at the time or in hindsight. While this is an embarrassing conversation for me to have today, I think it is important we have it, and I hope young men can learn about gauging conduct in social settings and continue to learn about and engage in the discussion.”

Boulton, 38, is in a six-way race for the Democratic nomination for governor. Early voting for the June 5 primary began May 7. Data from the state secretary of state’s office shows nearly 12,000 Democrats have voted by absentee ballot as of Tuesday.

The accusations will throw further uncertainty into the contest, which could be decided in a party convention if no candidate secures 35 percent of the vote next month.

Iowa Democrats condemned Boulton’s alleged behavior but stopped short of calling for him to leave the race.

Troy Price, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said in a statement: “Sexual harassment is unacceptable. Period. Everyone who comes forward with experiences of sexual harassment needs to be heard. Any candidate who represents our Party must embody and promote those principles.”

Janet Petersen, the Des Moines minority leader in the Iowa Senate who endorsed Boulton’s candidacy, called the allegations “a serious matter.”

Some of Boulton’s Democratic challengers were also quick to criticize him. At least one, union organizer Cathy Glasson, said Boulton’s behavior “disqualifies him.”

A campaign manager for Fred Hubbell, a businessman and the perceived front-runner, said in a statement: “Fred has been very clear that sexual harassment and misconduct has no place in our society and will not be tolerated.”

Boulton has been a favorite of labor unions and trial lawyers, two Democratic constituencies who collectively have financed much of his campaign.

His biggest supporter has been the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, whose Council 61 represents thousands of state employees in Iowa. A spokeswoman for AFSCME Council 61 had no immediate comment on the allegations against Boulton.

Iowa Republicans also called for Boulton to quit the race and resign as a senator.

Sexual misconduct has gained national prominence in the past year after the #MeToo movement highlighted alleged inappropriate behavior from powerful men in media, politics and other industries.

In Iowa, the issue took shape last summer when a jury awarded $2.2 million to a former staffer for Senate Republicans who says she was fired after reporting verbal harassment in the workplace. The state later reached a $1.75 million settlement.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix denied the staffer’s accusations. He resigned in March after video surfaced that showed the married Shell Rock Republican kissing a Statehouse lobbyist who wasn’t his wife.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidates are seeking to challenge Gov. Kim Reynolds in November. Reynolds has been criticized in recent months for how she handled the March firing of a longtime political ally, Dave Jamison, who was accused of harassing female subordinates for years while he served as the head of a state housing agency.

Reynolds says she fired Jamison immediately after learning about the allegations, but Democrats criticized that she kept general details of the allegations secret for more than a month. After those details were made public, she announced an independent investigation into the agency.


Associated Press write Ryan J. Foley in Iowa City contributed to this report.