A local election between two Democrats for a Maryland state Senate seat has heated up, with questions over whether the incumbent put out a campaign mailer deliberately darkening the skin of her South Asian opponent.
State Sen. Nancy King (D) is facing a primary challenge from Saqib Ali, a Democratic member of the House of Delegates who is of Pakistani and Indian descent. A new King mailer attacks Ali for taking "special interest PAC and corporate money." The mailer features two images of the candidate; they appear to be the same but flipped vertically. The site Maryland Politics Watch notices, however, that in the second image, "[e]very aspect of Ali...his hair, his skin, his five-o'clock shadow, his tie and his suit -- is darker."
Here's a side-by-side image, courtesy of Maryland Politics Watch:
In response to an inquiry from the Huffington Post, King Campaign Manager Amy Yockus Hartman wrote a lengthy e-mail criticizing Ali. In the first sentence she denied that the campaign altered Ali's image, but the rest of the e-mail was then devoted to attacking his record and accusing him of trying to "change the subject":
First off, at no time, in any way whatsoever, did we, or would we, alter photos or attempt to insinuate anything about Delegate Saqib Ali other than the verified facts we have consistently laid out through this campaign -- the fact that he fell asleep and missed a crucial vote on education funding, and the fact that he broke his promise to reject special interest funding and then accepted $50,000 in corporate and PAC money.
Other observers weren't convinced. Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D), who is neutral in the race between King and Ali, left a comment on Maryland Politics Watch stating, "This is the second piece of mail that has left me wondering if Senator King has any idea how many people of color that she represents in her district." Ervin confirmed to the Huffington Post that she left the comment and said she was referring to a King mailer showing a classroom of students -- who all happened to be persons of color -- acting out in classroom. "It [the newest mailer] appeared to me to insinuate something about Saqib's race, because -- I want to be clear -- it wasn't just that one piece," she said. "It was in conjunction with another piece that was about race that made me want to comment."
The Huffington Post also spoke with Ali, who said, "It's bewildering that she [King] would say she did not edit the photo, because clearly, to the plain eye, it's obvious the photo has been altered. Without a doubt. So it's one of those cases when someone says the sky is purple. I don't know why she would say such a thing. It's obvious. It's a verifiable fact."
This isn't the first time candidates have faced a backlash after darkening the skin of their opponent in campaign literature. In 2008, the National Republican Congressional Committee darkened the skin of Ashwin Madia, a Democratic Iraq war veteran who was running for Congress in Minnesota.