Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), a candidate for the U.S. Senate, suggested that President Barack Obama is backing her opponent, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, because the president and Harris are both black.
In an interview in Spanish on a Sacramento affiliate of Univision on Friday, Sanchez was asked to explain why Obama endorsed Harris.
“I think they have, what he said they have, is a friendship of many years. She is African American, as is he. They know each other through meetings,” Sanchez said, according to a translation by the Los Angeles Times.
Harris’ father is of Jamaican extraction and her mother is from India.
Sanchez said in a statement to the Times that the remarks were not meant “to imply that President Obama endorsed Kamala Harris for racial reasons.”
“I was stating the fact that the endorsement was based on their long-term political relationship,” Sanchez added.
But Harris’ campaign used the comments to attack Sanchez, with Juan Rodriguez, Harris’ campaign manager, telling the Times it was “especially disappointing to see a Democratic member of Congress make those comments.”
Some Californians were not impressed with Sanchez’s explanation of her remarks.
It also garnered criticism from progressive activists and observers outside the state:
Sanchez has gotten in trouble before over remarks that were perceived as insensitive to particular ethnic groups. In March 2015, the Orange County congresswoman made a stereotypical Native American chanting gesture when joking about her confusion ahead of a meeting with Indian Americans.
Harris currently leads Sanchez in the Senate race by a 15-point margin, according to HuffPost Pollster’s polling average.
California has a so-called jungle primary system in which candidates from all parties compete in one open race. The two candidates who perform best go on to the general election, even if they identify with the same party, as is the case with Harris and Sanchez.
Harris has picked up the support of top Democratic elected officials, labor unions and progressive groups, while Sanchez has positioned herself as the more moderate choice.
For example, Sanchez, unlike Harris, has refused to rule out support for cuts in Social Security benefits.
In a state as liberal as California, Sanchez is expected to pick up the votes of Republicans who view her as the least bad option. Hugh Hewitt, a popular conservative talk radio host from Orange County, endorsed Sanchez for that very reason earlier this month.