WASHINGTON ― During a pro-gun rally in Olympia, Washington, Marty McClendon, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, began to explain why the National Rifle Association gave his Democratic opponent Cyrus Habib an “F” rating. He was briefly interrupted with questions from the crowd.
“Is he legal?” one woman was heard shouting about Habib.
“What about his birth certificate?” a man asked.
McClendon responded, “Right. I don’t know.” He then went back to litigating Habib’s position on gun rights.
Habib was born in Baltimore to Iranian immigrant parents. His father came to the United States in 1970 to study at the University of Washington and his mother followed after the revolution in 1979. He graduated from Columbia University, the University of Oxford and Yale Law School and was elected to both the Washington state House of Representatives and Senate.
But never mind all that. The sound of Habib’s name leads some people to question whether he is a real American.
“The cancer of birtherism has metastasized even to Washington state,” Habib told The Huffington Post.
For five years, billionaire eccentric Donald Trump, now the Republican Party’s standard bearer, pushed the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and therefore could not legally hold office. Just weeks ago Trump renounced his doubts about Obama’s place of birth with little explanation. This has not removed those doubts from the minds of his supporters.
The questioning of Habib’s birthplace indicates that the paranoid mindset behind birtherism ― that anyone not of European descent is suspect ― is trickling down to other political races.
“It’s disconcerting to see that birtherism, which has probably been defined as an Obama-centric form of political hate-mongering, has applications that are not just confined to the president,” Habib said.
Legally, it doesn’t matter if Habib or anyone else is born a United States citizen for them to hold any office other than president. Just ask former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who was born a Canadian citizen, or former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, born an Austrian citizen.
Further, Habib said, it was “definitely shocking” to see McClendon not challenge an obvious falsehood someone in the crowd brought up about him.
“In our interpersonal dynamic he’s always been perfectly friendly,” Habib said.
In a statement released by his campaign, McClendon said that he has no doubt that Habib was born in the United States.
“I am running my campaign in the same manner I will run the office of Lt. Governor when I am elected,” McClendon said in the statement. “I believe civility needs to be returned to the process of governing, which is why The Golden Rule is the foundation of my platform. I do not know why those attendees asked the questions they did, and my answer of ‘I don’t know’ was accurate. I do not know anything about my opponent’s birth certificate, but I have zero doubt that he is a citizen and fully eligible to run for the office.”