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WASHINGTON – Sen. David Perdue, R-GA., faced criticism Friday night after appearing to mock and purposely mangle Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris' name at a President Donald Trump campaign rally.
Warming up the crowd in Macon, Georgia, Perdue flubbed his colleague's name before going on to mock her, saying to a laughing audience, "The most insidious thing that Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden are trying to perpetuate, and Bernie [Sanders] and Elizabeth [Warren] and Kamala -- Kah-ma-la, or Kah-mah-la, or Kamala-mala-mala -- I don't know, whatever."
Perdue has served in the Senate with Harris for around three years. He also sits with Harris on the budget committee.
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The moment was immediately scrutinized online while Perdue's spokespeople insisted it wasn't intentional.
Harris' spokesperson Sabrina Singh called the moment "incredibly racist."
John Burke, communications director for Perdue’s campaign, insisted the senator "simply mispronounced" her name "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, which includes the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all, raising taxes, and holding up COVID relief for the people of Georgia," Burke concluded.
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In response, Singh said they must "do better."
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden's campaign, tweeted: "My entire life, I've HATED dehumanizing, cynical displays like this that spread vile, racist poison and insult the dignity of the South - especially when they're obviously calculated. As a country & a region, we are so much better than David Perdue."
Casey Black, a spokesperson for Perdue’s campaign, maintained that the senator “simply mispronounced Sen. Harris’ name.”
USA TODAY has reached out to the Biden/Harris campaign for an additional statement.
Perdue is currently in a tight reelection race against Democrat Jon Ossoff.
The non-partisan Cook Political Report ranks the Georgia seat as a tossup, while RealClearPolitics shows Perdue to be about one point ahead, per their polling average.
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Ossoff wrote that "Senator Perdue never would have done this to a male colleague. Or a white colleague. And everyone knows it."
He also tweeted "we are so much better than this" in sharing a clip Perdue mispronouncing Harris' name.
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.
We are so much better than this. pic.twitter.com/9AvoQK4RdN— Jon Ossoff (@ossoff) October 16, 2020
In an appearance on MSNBC, Ossoff said, “This kind of vile, race-baiting trash talk is what President Trump has unleashed from sitting Republican members in the Senate."
Trump has repeatedly, purposely and mockingly, mispronounced the California senator's first name.
Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, is the first Black woman and Asian person on a major party's presidential ticket.
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"Senator David Perdue has served in the Senate alongside Vice Presidential nominee and Senator Kamala Harris since 2017," the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said in a statement.
"He knows her name and he knows how to say it. His disgusting performance today is nothing more than a desperate dog whistle from a losing politician who was already caught running anti-Semitic ads against Jon Ossoff. Perdue has shown he lacks the dignity and respect that Georgians deserve from their U.S. senator, and he must immediately apologize."
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., posted, "We all watched the video. You didn’t simply mispronounce your colleague’s name. You mocked" Harris's name and he should "at least have the courage to own up to it."
Meena Harris, the VP nominee's niece, tweeted, "Let’s call him what he is: racist."
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Contributing: Rebbeca Morin