Democrats are seizing on Republican Sen. David Perdue’s comments at a recent rally in which he made a spectacle of struggling to pronounce the name of Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, with critics accusing Georgia’s senior senator of mocking her and being out of touch with the rapidly diversifying state.
Blowback to Perdue’s comments has provided a late boost to Perdue’s Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, as he seeks to score an upset by winning one of Georgia’s two Republican-held U.S. Senate seats on the ballot this fall. A spokesman for Ossoff said his campaign raised $1.8 million in 48 hours following Perdue’s remarks.
Warming up the crowd Friday for President Donald Trump at a rally in Macon, Perdue brought up Harris and repeatedly mispronounced her name. “KAH’-mah-lah? Kah-MAH’-lah? Kamala-mala-mala? I don’t know. Whatever,” Perdue said, as members of the audience laughed.
Harris, who has served with Perdue in the Senate since 2017, is the first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent on a presidential ticket. She has described the proper pronunciation of her name as “‘comma-la,’ like the punctuation mark.”
Many saw racist overtones in Perdue’s words, and soon after the rally the hashtag #MyNameIs began to trend on Twitter, with people across the country sharing experiences of having their names mispronounced and mocked.
Perdue’s campaign issued a statement saying he “simply mispronounced Sen. Harris’ name.”
Perdue addressed the controversy at a campaign bus stop in Statesboro the day after the rally, saying: “I absolutely meant no disrespect to the Senator from California. My role in this is to point out the differences in what their agenda is and what our agenda is.”
Perdue isn’t the only political adversary who has made a show of struggling with Harris’ name: Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have also repeatedly mispronounced it. But Georgia Democrats are capitalizing on the flap.
Ossoff denounced Perdue at an Atlanta news conference Tuesday with state lawmakers representing some of Georgia’s most diverse districts.
“David Perdue has resorted to schoolyard insults, bullying, mocking his political opponents for their names and their heritage at a moment when we need unity,” he said.
State Sen. Nikema Williams, who is the first Black chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia and a congressional candidate, was even more direct.
“I’m tired of David Perdue’s racism and bigotry,” Williams said.
Perdue spokeswoman Casey Black shot back in a statement Tuesday, saying Ossoff is just trying to distract from the issues.
“Jon Ossoff is showing how desperate his campaign really is,” Black said. “Rather than discuss the issues that matter most to Georgians, Ossoff is pushing divisive smears to distract voters from his radical socialist agenda.”
But Democratic state Sen. Sheikh Rahman, an immigrant from Bangladesh who represents a suburban district northeast of Atlanta, joined Ossoff Tuesday and said that’s not how his constituents see it.
“People from my district come from more than 100 different countries, speak more than 100 different languages,” Rahman said. “It’s not uncommon for them to be the subject of harassment, discrimination or mocked because of their ‘funny’ name. It may be funny to some folks. But it’s not funny to me, not to my people.”