ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis tried on Thursday to dismiss concerns about newly surfaced audio of the former talk radio host wondering why he couldn’t call a woman “a slut,” saying his past career had been fully litigated in his 2016 election.

Lewis spent two decades as a conservative radio host before running for Congress, leveraging his popularity as “Mr. Right” to a narrow win in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District even as Democrats tried to use a history of controversial remarks against him. But Lewis’s comments about women while filling in for Rush Limbaugh in 2012 hadn’t previously been publicized until they were first reported by CNN Wednesday.

While discussing Limbaugh calling a women’s rights activist a slut, Lewis bemoaned that society no longer “required modesty from women.”

“Now, are we beyond those days where a woman can behave as a slut, but you can’t call her a slut?” he said.

State and national Democratic groups pounced on the remark, the latest sign that Lewis’s bid for re-election in the swing district will be one of the most competitive congressional races in the country.

Lewis and his campaign have repeatedly dismissed the comments as old news. In an interview with WCCO Radio Thursday, Lewis defended his right to free speech, said he was paid to be provocative and called publicizing the comments a “campaign smear.”

Asked what his daughters would think about his remarks on women, he responded he would tell them: “I would prefer you don’t behave in a way that people look down upon you.”

Angie Craig, who narrowly lost to Lewis in 2016 and is running again this year, called it “deeply disappointing.”

“Our leaders are role models for our kids and must hold themselves to that standard,” she wrote on Twitter.

It’s not Lewis’s first brush with backlash to his career as a conservative commentator. His on-air comments were widely circulated during his first campaign, including a remark that young women were “non-thinking” for their passion for contraceptive access.

He also wrote a passage in his 2011 book, “Power Divided is Power Checked,” suggesting it wasn’t the federal government’s role to ban slavery.

“If you don’t want to own a slave, don’t. But don’t tell other people they can’t,” he wrote.

(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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