(See update below)
SEATTLE - A member of Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell’s campaign staff is answering tough questions after tweeting a photo portraying Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna speaking about Asians in a negative light.
Democratic operative Kelly Steele calls it satire, but the McKenna campaign calls it a partisan attack.
The photo was taken when McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee were at the Asian Pacific American Summit. McKenna is seen with the phrase “Why aren’t they speaking English? #Asians.”
The photo was in reference to a tweet sent out by Kathryn Ehl, a policy aide for McKenna. Her tweet, “shut up and speak english #asians," was sent out six months before the 22-year-old ever signed on with the campaign, but it made national news and Ehl ultimately resigned.
Fast forward to last week when McKenna and Inslee both were left standing at their respective podiums during the summit, at times uncomfortably, waiting for a translator.
"My tweet was a satirical reference to a previous racist statement made by Republican Rob McKenna's own staffer,” wrote Steele in an email. “The language about speaking English and the hashtag #Asians emanated exclusively from McKenna's own team, and were initially forgiven by McKenna himself until media pressure caused a quiet resignation days later.”
Steele said it was fair game.
“This is simply a case of McKenna supporters upset about revisiting an embarrassing incident from their past," he said.
With just weeks to go before the election, McKenna’s team is crying foul.
“It is apparent that no tactic is off limits for Mr. Steele and his partisan allies in their attacks against Rob McKenna,” said a campaign spokesperson.
UPDATE, Sept. 29: Cantwell's reelection campaign responded to KING 5's request for comment:
"Kelly has apologized for his personal post about the Governor's race. There is no place for humor in the discussion of previous insensitive comments," said Rose Kapolczynski, the campaign's senior adviser.