Republican Senator David Perdue, who is seeking re-election from the state of Georgia, has sparked a storm after mispronouncing Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris’s first name during a speech at a rally for US President Donald Trump.
“Kamala? Kamala? Kamala-mala-mala? I don’t know. Whatever,” Perdue said at a campaign stop in Macon, Georgia, in a comment that is being seen by many as a deliberately racist ploy to denigrate Harris.
It is unlikely that Perdue would have made the remark out of ignorance or by accident because he has served with Harris, a senator from California, for at least three years.
Mispronouncing Harris’s name has become standard practice for Republicans in recent times in what is seen by many as an effort to belittle her by highlighting her heritage – she’s the daughter of an Indian-born mother and Jamaican-born father.
President Trump has been seen as leading the effort to belittle Harris by mispronouncing her name even as his re-election campaign has sought to reach out to Indian-American voters by claiming close ties with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After Perdue’s controversial remark, Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff shot back in a tweet, writing, “My opponent, GOP Sen. David Perdue of anti-Semitic attack ad infamy, just mocked Sen. Harris’ name as ‘Kamala-mala-mala-whatever’ at a Trump rally.”
He added, “Senator Perdue never would have done this to a male colleague. Or a white colleague. And everyone knows it.”
Perdue’s comment was a reminder of a 2006 incident at a campaign stop in Breaks, Virginia. There was an outcry after George Allen, a Republican senator from Virginia, had reportedly referred to SR Sidarth, an Indian-origin Democrat shadowing his campaign, as “macaca”, which is a genus of monkey. Allen subsequently lost his seat. As a standard opposition practice, Sidarth had been filming Allen’s campaign event on behalf of rival Jim Webb’s campaign.
John Burke, a spokesperson for Perdue, sought to play down the incident, tweeting, “Senator Perdue simply mispronounced Senator Harris’s name, and he didn’t mean anything by it. He was making an argument against the radical socialist agenda that she and her endorsed candidate Jon Ossoff are pushing.”
Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for White House hopeful Joe Biden’s campaign, replied to Burke, tweeting, “Yes, that’s why he articulated all of those things by saying, ‘Kamala-ma-la-ma-la’. How many staff refused to put this in their name before you debased yours? Christ, y’all are pathetic.”
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