People of color are running for state and national office, and the country has responded with the most American of traditions: by attacking them in very racist ways.
Some attacks are coded. Some are frankly stated. To keep track, we’ve begun a running list, limited to attacks made on candidates of color by their opponents, by opposing political organizations or by opposing campaign surrogates. We’ll make exceptions, however, where a third-party act against a candidate is so racist that it can’t be ignored. For each candidate we’ve graded the attacks on their subtlety using a scale of one to five white hands, in honor of the infamous Jesse Helms ad — five being the most explicit.
Gabby Salinas, Democratic candidate for State Senate in Tennessee’s 31st District
— A mailer sent out by Salinas’ opponent, Brian Kelsey, says “his family has called Shelby County home for seven generations. He’s from here. He’s one of us.” Similar phrasings pop up on two websites for Kelsey. Salinas is an immigrant woman of color.
Ben Jealous, Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland
— Jealous’ opponent, incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R), told a crowd, “I wish every county was like the western Maryland counties. Unfortunately they’re not all quite as smart as you guys are.” Western Maryland — which formally consists of Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties — is predominantly white.
— At the opening of his Baltimore campaign office, Hogan said, “Don’t let anybody tell you you have to vote a certain way because you happen to be black or you happen to live in Baltimore City. Some people have not been delivering for you for decades.”
Sri Preston Kulkarni, Democratic candidate for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District
— During a small campaign event, U.S. Rep. Pete Olson called Kulkarni a “liberal Indo-American who is a carpetbagger” and wondered if his funding is “coming from overseas.” During the post-Civil War Reconstruction, carpetbaggers were Northerners who moved to the South to get wealthy or acquire political power. Today it’s seen as a slur for opportunistic candidates seeking election in areas where they lack a local connection.
— The Fort Bend County Republican Party used a cartoonish version of Lord Ganesha in an ad urging Hindu American voters to support the Republican Party. “Would you worship a donkey or an elephant?” the ad asks. “The choice is yours.” The 22nd Congressional District includes a chunk of Fort Bend County.
Mandela Barnes, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Wisconsin
— Barnes’ opponent, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, falsely accused him of kneeling during the national anthem while attending the opening of the Wisconsin State Fair. She didn’t see him kneeling herself, and he denies that it happened.
Deb Haaland, Democratic candidate for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District
— Haaland’s opponent, former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, suggested in an interview that Haaland isn’t really Native American because she didn’t grow up on a reservation. “Well, there’s no doubt that her lineage is Laguna, but she’s a military brat, just like I am. And so [long pause], you know, it evokes images that she was raised on a reservation. She belongs to a pueblo,” said Arnold-Jones during a segment on Fox News.
Safiya Wazir, Democratic candidate for State Senate in New Hampshire’s 17th District
— During the primary, Wazir defeated 66-year-old incumbent Dick Patten. He lashed out afterward, claiming that residents have expressed frustration with those who “have just moved into the city” getting first dibs on public housing and that older residents are concerned about being pushed out. “A lot has been promised to minorities,” he said. “A lot of out-of-Concord people are getting everything.” Patten also said that Wazir doesn’t know the neighborhood.
Stacey Abrams, Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia
— A Photoshopped image shows Abrams holding a sign that declares her a “communist” who supports the Muslim Brotherhood. She is standing next to Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who is wearing a hijab. The real photo was taken at a rally marking the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March, and the sign they’re holding reads simply “STACY ABRAMS” and “GOVERNOR.”
— An August ad from the Republican Governors Association attacks Abrams for “dancing around the truth” and shows a pair of tap-dancing feet. The advertisement loops the dancing feet in the background while the narrator attacks Abrams’ personal finances. The ad evokes minstrelsy in service of an argument that a black woman is simple-minded and irresponsible.
Andy Kim, Democratic candidate for New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District
— A mailer targeting Kim features a caption saying, “There’s something REAL FISHY about ANDY KIM,” along with a photo of whole fish on ice. The words “REAL FISHY” and “ANDY KIM” are rendered in chop-suey font.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Democratic incumbent for Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District
— Grijalva’s opponent, Nick Pierson, said the longtime congressman is “not a good example of a Mexican, not a good example of a Mexican-American, and he’s not a good example of an American.” (Pierson says his parents were Mexican citizens and added that he’s “as Mexican as” Grijalva.)
Sharice Davids, Democratic candidate for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District
— In a Facebook message to a Democratic official, a Kansas GOP official called Davids a “radical socialist kickboxing lesbian Indian” who “will be sent back packing to the reservation.” (That official has since resigned.)
— When Davids won the nomination, her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin Yoder, said she wasn’t “from around here” and that she wants to force “radical ideas on those of us who have dedicated our entire lives to this community and this state.” He also said Davids doesn’t know the state’s values.
Colin Allred, Democratic candidate for Texas’ 32nd Congressional District
— Allred’s opponent, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), claims voting for Allred would ensure that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) becomes speaker of the House again with an agenda to raise taxes, give everyone free college and legalize drugs. “It would mean that they would legalize, they call it decriminalize, all Schedule 1 drugs,” Sessions said. “And what is that? That is everything from crack cocaine, to heroin, to methamphetamine. They would decriminalize, in essence legalize, all drugs in America.” If you get out your old Kix cereal decoder ring, you’ll find that “crack cocaine” is just another way of saying “scary negroes.”
— A digital ad pushing Sessions’ pro-gun agenda depicts a darkened hand over the mouth of a white woman.
David Garcia, Democratic candidate for governor of Arizona
— The Republican Governors Association runs an ad that shows photos of a white family with two young daughters. The mother says: “As a mom with two daughters, nothing is more important than keeping them safe. That’s why I’m worried about David Garcia.” She goes on to say the candidate’s call to “abolish ICE” places her daughters in danger.
— Another ad from the RGA calling out Garcia’s policy stances encourages viewers to “just imagine” living under Garcia’s leadership. It also darkens his skin and juxtaposes the image against white mothers, children and doctors.
Steven Horsford, Democratic candidate for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District
— An ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee attempts to connect Horsford to South Sudanese terrorists. Images of rebels holding machine guns and wearing headscarves float across the screen before the ad’s narration claims that R&R Partners received “almost a $1 million from South Sudan, a corrupt regime whose forces raped and murdered civilians.” While Horsford did serve as a senior vice president for that lobbying firm, he did not lobby for South Sudan — something R&R confirmed in disclosed federal documents — and he focused on public relations during his employment. The ad also calls Horsford “sleazy” and “shady.”
Aaron Ford, Democratic candidate for attorney general of Nevada
— An ad from the Republican Attorney Generals Association claims that past run-ins with the law make Ford unfit to be the state’s top cop because he “knows the law in all the wrong ways.” Ford was arrested for public intoxication, failing to appear in court twice and stealing tires when he was in his late teens and early 20s. The ad doesn’t mention when the arrests happened, nor does it note that the association supported Adam Laxalt’s candidacy four years ago. Laxalt, the state’s current attorney general, was arrested for a DUI in 1997 — and he is currently running for governor.
Ugo Okere, Democratic candidate for alderman in Chicago’s 40th Ward
— Okere’s opponent, incumbent Alderman Pat O’Connor, said that a fundraising flyer from Okere talked about “building Nigerian power in Chicago” as opposed to building community. “For God’s sake, if you want to talk about being part of a community, and this is how you’re going to raise your money?” said O’Connor before he was drowned out by booing from the crowd. In response, Okere noted that the flyer was aimed at building political power in the Nigerian-American community — something he said all communities deserve. In a statement released soon after, Okere said that he has lived in the community in which he’s running since he was 9 and that O’Connor “sought to divide me from my community and my physical home based on the color of my skin and my heritage.”
Rep. Maxine Waters, Democratic incumbent for California’s 43rd Congressional District
— A conservative street artist modified a Hollywood billboard advertising the latest “Halloween” movie by swapping out an image of Michael Myers for Waters. The artist chose a photo where Waters has her mouth open and, by replacing Myers’ head with hers, it looks as though Waters is wildly wielding a knife. The subtext here is the same as it has been for most conservative attacks on Waters: She is an out-of-control, scary, screeching, dangerous black woman.
Ammar Campa-Najjar, Democratic candidate for California’s 50th Congressional District
— Campa-Najjar’s opponent, Rep. Duncan Hunter, released an attack ad calling him a “security risk” with connections to Islamic terrorism. The same ad accuses Campa-Najjar of attempting to “infiltrate” Congress. It also claims that Campa-Najjar changed his name “so he sounds Hispanic” and to erase his family’s ties to terrorism. And the ad makes sure to note that his grandfather was part of the attack on Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
— Hunter later doubled down on this attack, claiming Campa-Najjar would leak classified information on U.S. military operations if elected. “Would he compromise U.S. operations to protect his relatives, the Najjars?” asks a letter paid for by Hunter’s campaign and signed by three retired Marines.
Antonio Delgado, Democratic candidate for New York’s 19th Congressional District
— The Harvard lawyer’s critics repeatedly bring up his decade-old past as a hip-hop artist to argue that he is unfit to represent this predominantly white district. A September ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee features clips of Delgado campaigning intertwined with darkened videos of the candidate rapping about sex, saying “nigga” and critiquing white supremacy.
— His opponent, Faso, said Delgado’s music is “inconsistent with the views of the people of the 19th District and America.” He also said that Delgado’s lyrics, which are over a decade old, “paint an ugly and false picture of America.”
— A radio ad aired by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that aims to elect Republicans to the House of Representatives, refers to Delgado’s music as a “sonic blast of hateful rhetoric and anti-American views.”
— Gerald Benjamin, a friend of Faso’s and the director of the Benjamin Center at the State University of New York at New Paltz, asked The New York Times in July: “Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values?” He added that “people like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture.”
Andrew Gillum, Democratic candidate for governor of Florida
— Former Rep. Ron DeSantis, the GOP nominee for governor, told Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.
— A neo-Nazi group in Idaho sent robocalls pretending to be Gillum. “We Negroes … done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an’ stone,” says a man’s voice with a stereotypically exaggerated dialect while drums and jungle noises play in the background. The speaker also claims that Gillum would pass a law allowing black people to escape arrest “if the Negro know fo’ sho he didn’t do nothin.’”
— The same white nationalist organization released another robocall that features a man pretending to be Gillum and speaking in an exaggerated dialect. The voice says, “Well, hello there. I is the Negro Andrew Gillum, and I be asking you to make me governor of this here state of Florida.” Negro spirituals and monkey screeches can be heard in the background as the narrator suggests that using chicken feet as medicine would keep Gillum’s health care plan cheap. The background music appears to come from “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” a once-popular radio and television show that relied on racial stereotypes.
— A GOP official from the Orlando area posted a meme falsely claiming that Gillum will issue reparations for African enslavement.
— Rep. Matt Gaetz, stumping for DeSantis on Oct. 6, accused Gillum of having overseen a rise in crime during his time as mayor of Tallahassee. “If you want to look at Andrew Gillum’s strategy, look no further than Tallahassee,” Gaetz said. “In Tallahassee, they’re in the top 10 in every major crime category in the state. They’re the murder capital of Florida. I don’t know whether to call him Andrew Gillum or Andrew Kill’em.” (In September, the Leon County sheriff praised Gillum’s record on crime. “Under Mayor Andrew Gillum’s leadership, violent crime is down 24 percent, and overall crime is down 10 percent with crime at a five-year low in Tallahassee,” said Sheriff Walt McNeil.)
Aftab Pureval, Democratic candidate for Ohio’s 1st Congressional District
— The Congressional Leadership Fund ran an ad that attempts to connect Pureval to Libyan terrorists. The video begins with photos of Pureval before jumping to photos of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, men in headscarves holding assault rifles and pictures of downed Pan Am Flight 103. It also claims that a D.C. lobbying firm where Pureval worked from 2008 to 2012 made millions by settling lawsuits filed against Libya by the families of those killed in the airplane bombing. Pureval, who did not work on any of the cases in which Libya was a client, is also depicted standing next Hillary Clinton alongside a pair of darkened hands shuffling money.
Shelia Stubbs, Democratic candidate for State Assembly in Wisconsin’s 77th District
— Before the state’s Democratic primary in August, Stubbs was campaigning in a predominantly white neighborhood when an unidentified man called the police. The caller claimed that Stubbs’ Lincoln MKZ and its passengers — her mother and 8-year-old daughter — were involved in a drug deal “at the local drug house.”
Verita Black Prothro, Democratic candidate for public administrator of Washoe County, Nevada
— A campaign sign was altered to make Prothro look like a caricature from a minstrel show, her skin blackened, with the exception of her eyes and mouth. The “Black” in her name was also marked out.
Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Democratic incumbent for Delaware’s at-large congressional district
— Rochester’s opponent, Scott Walker, called her an “Aunt Tom” in a Facebook rant.
Rep. Keith Ellison, Democratic candidate for Minnesota attorney general
— A mailer from Ellison’s opponent, Doug Warlow, accuses the sitting congressman of having ties to radical Islamic groups and terrorists. It claims that Ellison will attack President Donald Trump and “subvert the rule of law.” The mailer also notes that Ellison is Muslim and took the pilgrimage to Mecca before alleging that he met with an officer of the Muslim Brotherhood who supports jihad against Americans. It goes on to say that Ellison has voiced support for reparations for African enslavement and advocated for a “blacks only” country. It fails to mention that Ellison distanced himself from those beliefs in 2006.
— A second mailer says Ellison “has a long history of cheering on cop killers.” This refrain, similar to be called “anti-police,” is commonly lobbed at anyone who criticizes policing and police violence against black Americans.
Steven Jackson, Democratic candidate for mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana
— An anonymous individual threatened to lynch Jackson, currently a Caddo Parish commissioner, if he did not drop out of the race for mayor of Shreveport. The letter, which Jackson said was placed at his home, includes a racist reimagining of the iconic 2008 poster promoting Barack Obama’s presidential campaign: Jackson’s face appears in a noose and the word “Hope” has been changed to “Rope.” Below the image, it says: “LEAVE OUR STATUE & PROPERTY ALONE & GET OUT OF THE RACE NIGGER.”