Former California Rep. Darrell Issa is standing by a new TV spot that repeatedly highlights the fact that his top rival, former San Diego City Councilman and fellow Republican Carl DeMaio, is gay.
Issa’s ad came just after DeMaio launched his own commercial that argued that the former congressman hadn’t done enough to support Donald Trump. Issa’s spot responds by featuring a DeMaio tweet calling Trump “a disgusting pig” and arguing that he supported citizenship for “illegal aliens” while he was on the San Diego City Council. The ad also showcases the same shot of three shirtless and tattooed men taken in a Latin American prison that has become a staple of racist GOP ads during the Trump era.
The spot then highlights a large headline from the Los Angeles Blade that reads “Carl DeMaio: California’s gay GOP kingmaker” and a considerably smaller excerpt from the article quoting DeMaio saying, “My job isn’t to support Donald Trump.” The image then switches to an article from The Hill titled “Gay GOP Candidate: Party Must Change” with some text reading, “DeMaio said some illegal immigrants should be given a path to citizenship.”
The ad drew quick condemnation from two local Republicans, San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate and county party chair Tony Krvaric, for emphasizing DeMaio’s sexual orientation. Meanwhile, a spokesman for San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who is one of Issa’s most high-profile endorsers, also declared, “Campaigns should focus on people’s positions on the issues, not people’s sexual orientation.” However, Issa’s intra-party critics were silent about the ad’s blatant racism, and Faulconer’s team also made sure to note that the mayor is still backing the ex-congressman.
Unsurprisingly, Issa dug in and defended himself. On Thursday, when local ABC reporter Jon Horn asked him about the spot, Issa initially responded, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” After Horn elaborated, Issa responded, “You’re talking about some headlines from actual newspapers” and continued, “I certainly think you should talk to The Hill and The Blade and ask them why they use those words.”
Issa continued to insist the next day that his ad was free of homophobia. The former congressman told Politico that DeMaio “made no public statements complaining about [The Blade] or The Hill” at the time the articles were originally published, adding that he doesn’t consider the word “gay” to be a slur (how enlightened of him).
Issa went even further, saying that some of his staffers, including some of current employees, have been gay, protesting, “This ad is not about anything related to that term.” Issa did not, however, explain why he chose to use two large headlines about DeMaio’s sexual orientation if he didn’t want viewers to clearly see them.
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