St. Petersburg, Florida -- A Republican candidate for Congress in North Central Florida is defending his interest in role-playing and dressing up after his online pictures made national headlines.
Jake Rush, a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho in Congressional District 3, says he's always been interested in theater and is not apologizing for what he calls his "hobby."
"You know I admitted it. I never hid it, I stood up and you know I fight a bully and I'm happy to fight a bully in this case and I'm happy to fight a bully in Washington, D.C.," Rush told 10 News.
Pictures of Rush dressed in zombie-like outfits and in superhero costumes first surfaced Tuesday in a story posted on SaintPetersBlog.com. The story was quickly picked-up by the Huffington Post, Time.com and others.
Rush, a graduate of Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, says he's been through multiple background checks before applying twice for jobs with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and he says the pictures and his hobby have never been an issue. He calls the original story a "hit piece" that was generated by his opponent.
"I spent last week kicking off my campaign and I've made some strong charges against the votes that my opponent has made. And in response, I get hit on blogs with pictures of me in costume."
At one time, Rush was a participant in the fantasy role-playing group The Mind's Eye Society. One character Rush admits he did play was named Chazz Darling. But some controversial and disturbing comments posted online in 2010 under the name Chazz Darling were not posted by him, Rush reiterated on Wednesday.
His campaign also produced an email by a Lee Snyder who apologized for the comments and said he was the person who posted them.
"These so called offensive comments made by "Chazz Darling", and almost certainly many other comments over the years, were made by me while portraying characters. These comments were made using a shared account, which had several users. I apologize for the embarrassment this confusion may have caused Jake and the Campaign," Snyder wrote in the email.
High school classmate and college roommate John Thacker, a family law attorney in Clearwater, also defended his longtime friend Wednesday calling Rush a person of high moral character.
"I've always thought of Jake as being an ethical and honorable guy. I've never questioned in any way anything about Jake, he's always been a loyal friend," Thacker said.
Yet Rush did admit to 10 News that he scrubbed or took down some online photos before announcing his candidacy last week.
When asked why he did that if he had nothing to hide Rush explained, "I just didn't want unflattering pictures of me spread around, as you can see I wasn't that diligent about it, I wasn't that overly concerned about it and there's still photos out there and there's probably more photos out there."