The California Democratic Convention was abuzz last night after a video circulated on social media showing U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez making a cringe-inducing gaffe just days after she announced her entrance into the U.S. Senate race.
Sanchez, who lives in Santa Ana, raised her hand to her mouth in imitation of an ululating Native American "war cry" while she was speaking to a group of Indian Americans at a restaurant near the convention center in Anaheim. She made the gesture while discussing the difference between Native Americans and Americans of South Asian ancestry like those she was addressing.
The video immediately caught the attention of reporters and political operatives familiar with Sanchez's sometimes unrestrained campaign style. It also drew a sharp rebuke from her opponent in the Senate race, California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (whose mother emigrated from India). Harris called the gesture "shocking."
On Sunday morning, Sanchez made a public apology for the comment in a speech to convention delegates.
The video was shot by Uduak-Joe Ntuk, a delegate from Long Beach. Ntuk told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday night that he had not taken sides in the Senate race and happened to be at the Indian American event to see a friend.
By Sunday morning, however, a Facebook post had surfaced showing that Ntuk helped raise money for Harris' campaign earlier this year.
In February, Ntuk wrote: "Thank you to everyone who came out tonight in support of Kamala Harris for US Senate!!! Great turnout and we exceeded our fundraising goal!!!" The post featured a photo of Ntuk and Harris posing together.
Reached by telephone Sunday, Ntuk acknowledged that as the president of the Long Beach Democratic Club he had helped raise money for Harris' campaigns for both Senate and attorney general.
"I've been involved in fundraisers for Kamala in the past," he said.
Video of candidates shot surreptitiously, sometimes by opposing candidates' "plants," has become a potent force in campaigns. In 2006, Republican George Allen torched his hopes for a Virginia Senate seat when he used the seemingly derogatory term "macaca" to refer to an Indian American political operative videotaping him on behalf of opponent Jim Webb.
Ntuk said Sunday he was not working in any official role for Harris' campaign and did not go to the Indian American Caucus event in the hope of catching Sanchez misstepping.
"I'm not paid by her campaign. I'm not volunteering for her campaign," Ntuk said of Harris. "I didn't go to the event on behalf of her campaign. No one asked me to attend."