Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not, of course, on stage Thursday night with the Democratic candidates for president. But the freshman congresswoman nevertheless is in the center of a debate-related controversy on Friday. It all stems from a jarring ad from a new GOP group that aired during the debate on ABC, one that showed an image of AOC's burning face and compared her democratic socialist ideas to the murderous Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia. The details:
- The ad: Watch it here. It opens with an image of AOC bursting into flames to reveal skulls. “Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know the horror of socialism?" asks the female narrator. "My father was minutes from death in Cambodia, before a forced marriage saved his life. That’s socialism. Forced obedience, starvation. Mine is a face of freedom. My skin is not white, I’m not outrageous, racist, nor socialist. I’m a Republican.”
- Who's behind it: Elizabeth Heng, founder of a new Republican PAC called New Faces GOP, per the Washington Post. Heng is seen as a rising young Republican star. She lost a House race to Democrat Jim Costa last year. Her parents did indeed survive the Khmer Rouge regime and fled Cambodia to Fresno, Calif. The Fresno Bee has a profile of her, one that ran in 2018 during her House campaign.
- AOC's reaction: "Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren’t racist," she tweeted. "Life is weird." Later, she had a more serious criticism: "Know that this wasn’t an ad for young conservatives of color—that was the pretense," she wrote. "What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case."
- Heng responds: "This ad is about fighting the socialist agenda that has taken over the Democratic Party,” she said in a statement, per Roll Call. But she also specifically responded to AOC on Twitter, saying the ad was from her, not Republicans in general. "Are you really calling me a racist
@aoc?" she wrote. "I’m calling all Democrats out for supporting an evil ideology. Or are you just in Congress to hang out with celebrities and tweet out ridiculous ideas like the green new deal?"
- ABC takes flak: CNN notes that the hashtag #BoycottABC was trending on Friday morning, with critics saying the network should not have aired the spot. The Hill rounds up criticism, including this tweet from civil rights figure Rashad Robinson: "Candidates were warned not to swear during this debate, but an ad that clearly incites animosity and violence toward a sitting Congresswoman was apparently no issue. Media corporations are responsible for how they choose to profit, period."
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