WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. David Perdue mocked Kamala Harris, his Senate colleague and the Democratic vice presidential nominee, on Friday by repeatedly mispronouncing her name at a Georgia rally for President Donald Trump.
Perdue was wrapping up his remarks at an event in Macon when he referred to Harris as “KAH’-mah-lah? Kah-MAH’-lah? Kamala-mala-mala? I don’t know. Whatever.” The audience laughed.
A spokesperson for Perdue said the first-term senator “didn’t mean anything by it.”
Harris’ political opponents have repeatedly mispronounced her name since she became the first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent on a national ticket. Democrats say the mispronunciations smack of racism. Her first name is pronounced “KAH’-mah-lah” — or, as she explains in her biography, “‘comma-la,’ like the punctuation mark.”
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are among the top Republicans who have repeatedly mispronounced it. A few Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, have said it incorrectly, too.
Harris’ spokesperson, Sabrina Singh, responded to Perdue’s remark in a tweet: “Well that is incredibly racist. Vote him out.” In a second tweet, she wrote, “He has been her Senate colleague for over 3 years. 3. Years. THREE. Do better.”
Casey Black, a spokesperson for Perdue’s campaign, tweeted that the senator “simply mispronounced Sen. Harris’ name.”
“He didn’t mean anything by it,” Black wrote. “He was making an argument against the radical socialist agenda that she & her endorsed candidate Jon Ossoff are pushing.”
Jon Ossoff, who is running against Perdue in November, tweeted that his opponent “mocked Sen. Harris’ name,” adding, “We are so much better than this.”
Ossoff, who staged an unsuccessful bid for Congress in a 2017 special election, also tweeted a fundraising message over video of Perdue’s comments and said in another tweet, “Senator Perdue never would have done this to a male colleague. Or a white colleague. And everyone knows it.”
Georgia’s Democratic Party demanded that Perdue apologize.
“Senator Perdue’s intentionally disrespectful mispronunciation of Senator Harris’s name is a bigoted and racist tactic straight from President Trump’s handbook,” Nikema Williams, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, said in a statement. “He owes Georgians an apology for his offensive display.”