A former Nevada state assemblywoman has accused Joseph R. Biden Jr. of touching and kissing her at a 2014 campaign event for Democrats in what she called a mortifying episode that left her feeling “powerless to do anything about it.”
In an essay published on Friday by New York Magazine’s The Cut, the former assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, a Democrat, said she was 35 at the time of her encounter with Mr. Biden, who was then vice president. Mr. Biden, she wrote, had agreed to come to a rally to help her fledgling campaign for lieutenant governor of Nevada.
Ms. Flores wrote that at first, she had been “grateful and flattered.” But as she was preparing to take the stage, she said, she “felt two hands on my shoulders” and “froze.”
“Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?” she recalled wondering.
“I felt him get closer to me from behind,” she continued. “He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified.”
Then, she added: “He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”
Reached by phone on Saturday, Ms. Flores, who was attending Beto O’Rourke’s kickoff campaign rally in El Paso, said she expected Mr. Biden, and some of the public, to minimize the interaction. (Ms. Flores has said she has not yet endorsed any candidate for president and has argued that even if and when she does, her endorsement would not “erase” Mr. Biden’s “inappropriate behavior.”)
“We don’t have a system in any way, shape or form right now in politics where women and victims can speak out and can have their voices heard and can bring some accountability to people who are misbehaving and people who have done bad things,” she said.
She also said she wanted to clarify that the interaction with Mr. Biden she described was not out in the open, a point she said might have been initially misunderstood.
Her allegations come as Mr. Biden is poised to announce whether he will join the 2020 Democratic primary field and seek the White House; at public appearances and through aides Mr. Biden has signaled he is likely to enter the race.
In a statement, Bill Russo, a spokesman for Mr. Biden, said the former vice president did not recall what Ms. Flores described. Mr. Russo said Mr. Biden had been “pleased to support Lucy Flores’s candidacy for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2014 and to speak on her behalf at a well-attended public event.”
“Neither then, nor in the years since, did he or the staff with him at the time have an inkling that Ms. Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes,” the statement said. “But Vice President Biden believes that Ms. Flores has every right to share her own recollection and reflections, and that it is a change for better in our society that she has the opportunity to do so. He respects Ms. Flores as a strong and independent voice in our politics and wishes her only the best.”
Addressing Mr. Biden’s statement, Ms. Flores said: “My reaction to his response is he definitely could have done a lot more to acknowledge how his behavior might have made me and the other women he has done that to feel.”
After her piece published Friday, she said, she had been “prepared for the worst.” But she said she has been surprised by the amount of positive feedback and support she has received.
Indeed, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — one of Mr. Biden’s competitors for the Democratic nomination should he enter the race — offered supportive words for Ms. Flores during a campaign swing in Iowa on Saturday. Asked about Ms. Flores’s essay, Ms. Warren told reporters that she had read it and called on Mr. Biden to respond directly to it.
“I believe Lucy Flores, and Joe Biden needs to give an answer,” she said. Pressed on whether Mr. Biden should opt against running in the primary, Ms. Warren said it was for him to decide.
Mr. Biden has long been criticized for his handling of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas in 1991, when he led a panel of white men in aggressively questioning Anita Hill, who is African-American. On Tuesday, he expressed regret for his role in the hearing, saying “to this day, I regret I couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved.”
As Ms. Flores noted in her essay, Mr. Biden has also faced scrutiny over the years for pictures and videos that have shown him standing close to women and sometimes touching them on the shoulders, whispering in their ears and even giving kisses.
In her essay, Ms. Flores said that as those pictures surfaced, her anger and resentment grew. She said that in 2014, Mr. Biden was “the second-most powerful man in the country and, arguably, one of the most powerful men in the world.”
“He was there to promote me as the right person for the lieutenant governor job,” she wrote. “Instead, he made me feel uneasy, gross, and confused. The vice-president of the United States of America had just touched me in an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners — and I felt powerless to do anything about it.”
She also wrote that she had carefully considered whether to speak out, but said that “hearing Biden’s potential candidacy for president discussed without much talk about his troubling past as it relates to women became too much to keep bottled up any longer.”
Ms. Flores has embraced the role of social justice advocate, speaking out about sexism and harassment in politics in recent years. She gave support to Masha Mendieta, a woman on Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign who said she was mistreated. And in a 2017 interview with Nevada Public Radio, she said it was “wonderful” that “we are having this conversation about what is the difference between sexism, what is the difference between sexual harassment, what’s the difference between sexual assault.”