The Public Record: David Perdue mocks Kamala Harris’ name

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks at the State Capitol after qualifying for the 2020 election on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans - Capitol Beat News Service)

The Story: The Internet was abuzz over the weekend with video footage of Georgia Sen. David Perdue mocking the pronunciation of Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ first name.

The Setting: The video is from a Trump Rally in Macon on Friday.

What did he say?: The video below shows David Perdue mispronouncing Harris’ name and then appearing to have fun with various pronunciations of it to the cheers of Trump supporters.

How is Kamala Harris’ name pronounced: Harris’ name is pronounced Comma-la.

Why it matters: Mispronouncing Harris’ name or making reference to trouble pronouncing her name is a subtle way of painting the candidate as “the other.” It is a common tactic employed by white politicians to remind supporters that another candidate does not share their ethnic origin. A similar tactic was employed by politicians and pundits who commonly used Barack Obama’s middle name “Hussein” as a way to draw a not-so-subtle comparison to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Also, Harris is running for Vice-President. There are two presidential candidates and two vice-presidential candidates in the race, there is no reason Perdue wouldn’t know how to pronounce the name of one of his opponents. Perdue and Harris have also served in the Senate together and both serve on the Senate budget committee. They are colleagues. It is unlikely Perdue doesn’t know how her name is pronounced.

How the comment is playing out: While this incident got Perdue momentary laughs and may have energized Donald Trump’s base, the long-term impact is already benefitting Perdue’s senate rival John Ossoff.

It was reported in the AJC that Ossoff — who seized on the viral moment immediately by taking to Twitter to condemn Perdue — claims to have raised $1.8 million for his campaign due to the incident.

What does Perdue say?: A campaign spokesperson said Perdue simply mispronounced Harris’ name and “didn’t mean anything by it.”

Photo: U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks at the State Capitol after qualifying for the 2020 election on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting statements by public officials called The Public Record, where we present recent quotes by public officials or candidates. You may not be able to attend every public meeting or see every occasion where your representatives speak, but you still have a right to know what your representatives and those who hope to represent you have been saying.

“Because public men and women are amenable ‘at all times’ to the people, they must conduct the public’s business out in the open.” -Charles L. Weltner Sr., former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court

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