Republican senator David Perdue derisively mocked Kamala Harris’s first name in a base attempt to appeal to President Trump’s supporters at a Trump campaign rally in Macon, Georgia, on Friday night. Perdue — who serves on the Senate Budget Committee with Harris and who once worked as a consultant for an Indian chemical conglomerate — performed an obviously purposeful, exaggerated mispronunciation of “Kamala” when referencing the Democratic vice-presidential nominee during his warm-up act for Trump at the rally. Highlighting and ridiculing Harris’s Sanskrit first name has become a race-baiting routine for many on the right over the course of this campaign cycle, and Perdue, a millionaire longtime corporate executive who founded a global trading firm and has served on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, apparently decided one of the ways he could maintain an edge in his tight reelection race was to get in on the retail xenophobia.
“The most insidious thing that Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden are trying to perpetuate,” Perdue said, “and Bernie and Elizabeth and Kah-MAH-lah or KAH-mah-lah or Kamamboamamla, I don’t know — Whatever!”
The moment was recorded and quickly shared by the campaign of Perdue’s Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, on social media — where it drew widespread condemnation and renewed attention on the efforts to otherize Harris, the first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent on a national ticket.
Afterward, Perdue’s campaign tried to claim that the senator’s use of “Kamamboamamla” in place of Harris’s actual name was some kind of innocent oopsie. Perdue “simply mispronounced Senator Harris’s name, and he didn’t mean anything by it,” a campaign spokeswoman said in a statement — impressively managing to lie three times in 12 words: There was nothing simple about it; he definitely knows how to pronounce her name; and he definitely meant something by it.
Perdue was also mimicking Trump, who often purposefully mispronounces “Kamala” himself — and he’s done so three times in a row before, too:
Sabrina Singh, Harris’s press secretary, called out Perdue’s mispronouncing act as “incredibly racist” on Friday. The Ossoff campaign, meanwhile, immediately starting fundraising off Perdue’s comment, while Ossoff noted on Twitter that Perdue’s campaign had also run an anti-Semitic Facebook ad earlier this year that showed Ossoff, who is Jewish, with an enlarged nose along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (also Jewish) over the text, “Democrats are trying to buy Georgia!” Perdue’s campaign said the ad was made by an outside vendor and the enlargement of Ossoff’s nose was accidental.
Butchering Harris’s name wasn’t Perdue’s only effort to ingratiate himself with the president’s followers on Friday night. He also told the crowd that Trump’s political rise was an act of God. “This guy is providential. He didn’t happen by accident,” Perdue said. “How in the world in our political system could Donald J. Trump come on the scene in 2016 do what he did? Tell me. God’s watching.”
So are voters. Though Perdue is, at the moment, favored to win his race against Ossoff next month, a few recent polls have shown Ossoff with a lead. The race between Trump and Joe Biden in Georgia, meanwhile, is currently a toss-up, according to FiveThirtyEight.