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Kimberly Klacik, whose viral campaign ad urged Black Baltimore voters to abandon Democrats, speaks at Republican convention

Kimberly Klacik speaks during a candidates' forum in January in Elkridge before the special election to fill Maryland's 7th Congressional District seat after the death of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. (Amanda Voisard/for The Washington Post)

Kimberly Klacik, who suggested in a recent viral campaign ad that Democrats don’t care about Black voters, spoke Monday night at the Republican National Convention, appealing to Black voters to embrace the GOP.

Klacik, who is Black, is the Republican running for the late congressman Elijah E. Cummings’s seat against Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), the former NAACP chief who handily defeated her in a special election in April and now faces a rematch in November.

She introduced herself while quoting Shirley Chisholm’s campaign slogan, “Unbought and unbossed,” then began her speech by saying Democrats had run parts of Baltimore “into the ground.”

“The same cycle of decay exists in many of America’s Democrat-run cities, and yet the Democrats still assume that Black people will vote for them, no matter how much they let us down and take us for granted,” Klacik said in a video message to the convention. “We’re sick of it. We’re not going to take it anymore. The days of blindly supporting the Democrats are coming to an end.”

Klacik’s bid is a long shot in Maryland’s solidly blue 7th District. But her inclusion at the convention Monday — joining Donald Trump Jr., Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — fast-tracks her unusual political ascension, which has been framed by several viral moments over the past year.

The founder of a nonprofit group and a member of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, Klacik first came into the national spotlight last summer when her videos seeking to blame Cummings for blight in Baltimore ended up launching an enduring feud between Cummings and President Trump months before Cummings’s death.

Her message Monday night echoed last week’s controversial campaign ad, harnessing a favorite Trump talking point: that Democrats are to blame for any number of failings in major American cities — a message that Klacik and other Republican strategists have specifically targeted to Black voters.

Klacik invoked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, saying he believes that “the color of someone’s skin dictates their political views.”

“You and your party have neglected us far too long,” Klacik said, while urging other Republicans to compete for seats in “inner cities” and to “deliver real results” to residents looking for a change in leadership.

Klacik joined the convention lineup after her viral campaign ad, “Black Lives Don’t Matter to Democrats,” caught the eye of Trump, who shared it on Twitter last week. Urging people to vote for her, he said, “Don’t blow it Baltimore, the Democrats have destroyed your city!”

Walking through West Baltimore streets in red stilettos and a red dress, Klacik says Democrats have “betrayed” Black residents as she passes boarded-up, abandoned rowhouses and warns of crime and crumbling infrastructure. Baltimore is nearly 63 percent Black, according to Census Bureau data.

“Do you care about Black lives? The people that run Baltimore don’t. I can prove it,” Klacik begins. “Walk with me. They don’t want you to see this.”

Mfume said in an interview Monday night that Klacik’s message urging Republicans not to write off inner cities “comes about 50 years too late.” Inner-city neighborhoods, he argued, “only become important [to Republicans] and a focal point every four years.”

“Walking through a neighborhood for 20 minutes is not the same as working to help a neighborhood for 20 years. I’ve done that. I urge my opponent to do it, and frankly I urge Donald Trump to do it,” Mfume said. “But he has been hellbent on stoking racial fears about Black people, and Donald Trump, in using my opponent, has found another way to insult faith leaders, community organizations and residents of all colors working every day to make life better in Baltimore and the congressional district.”

He also criticized Klacik for not actually living in the 7th District. She lives in Middle River but has said she would move to West Baltimore if elected.

Klacik’s rhetoric blaming Democrats for Baltimore’s problems echoes the missives she fired at Cummings in July 2019 that caught Trump’s attention.

In her videos, she highlighted dumping grounds and blighted buildings in West Baltimore while saying, “Congressman Elijah Cummings says he cares about the children at the border, but the children in his district live next to abandoned row homes, sometimes filled with rodents, trash out back and homeless people trying to find shelter.”

Trump in turn used the opportunity to repeatedly bash Cummings while describing Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” — rhetoric that was condemned as racist.

Trump attacks Rep. Cummings's district as 'rat and rodent infested mess'

“Rep, Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “His district is considered the Worst in the USA.”

Cummings responded to the president, saying he wakes up every day to “go and fight for my neighbors,” which he called his “moral duty.” He then urged the president to work together, but Trump continued the attacks.

Trump cited Klacik by name in a tweet days later. She later told the Baltimore Sun she wished there was less focus on the president’s tweets and more on Baltimore’s conditions.

In an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, responding to the editorial board’s criticism of her campaign ad, Klacik described herself as a moderate Republican who supports paid family leave and over-the-counter birth control, believes that man-made climate change is an urgent threat, and supports same-sex marriage.

She has spoken out against defunding the police, a facet of her viral campaign ad. She called for boosting public safety in her brief speech Monday.