Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous clearly does not like being called a socialist.
On Wednesday, the former NAACP chief was asked at a news conference whether he identified with the term “socialist,” as his political opponent, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), has labeled him.
“Are you f---ing kidding me?” Jealous responded, visibly surprising some of the Democratic elected officials who had gathered to endorse him.
His use of the curse word immediately began rebounding on Twitter and in Maryland political circles.
The Republican Governor’s Association’s top spokesman tweeted a clip of the remark and called Jealous “unhinged.” Republican aides gleefully remarked it would appear in attack ads.
“The governor believes in raising the level of political discourse in our state and in our country, and cursing at reporters asking questions is the exact opposite of that,” Hogan campaign spokesman Doug Mayer said in a statement. “We need more people in public office who understand that words and tone matter, not fewer — we already have plenty who don’t in Washington, D.C.”
The flap threatened to overshadow Jealous’s announcement of the endorsements. At 2 p.m., he apologized “for my inappropriate language.”
In a statement provided to The Washington Post and posted on Twitter, Jealous also offered a direct answer to the question about his political philosophy: “I’m a venture capitalist, not a socialist. I have never referred to myself as a socialist nor would I govern as one.”
Jealous was a chief surrogate during the 2016 campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont who identified himself as a Democratic socialist. While Jealous has embraced many of Sanders’s policy ideas — Medicare for all and debt-free college among them — he has not called himself a socialist.
Republicans, however, are doing so at every opportunity. Early Wednesday, the RGA released its third attack ad in the hotly contested gubernatorial race, which featured a truncated version of comments Jealous made on MSNBC shortly after winning the nomination.
“Go ahead, call me a socialist,” the ad quotes him as saying. It leaves out the second half of his sentence: “That doesn’t change the fact I’m a venture capitalist.”
Hogan and the RGA have repeatedly tried to paint Jealous as “too extreme” for the state, and Jealous has dismissed that criticism as “name-calling.”
“Him calling me a far-left socialist is what the tea party called Barack Obama. It’s what Barry Goldwater called Martin Luther King,” Jealous said. “When you see conservatives like Hogan name-calling, you realize that they’re scared.”
Political analysts said Jealous’s use of profanity distracted from the message he was trying to send.
“In a click-driven media narrative, the only thing that gets covered is the curse word,” said political scientist Mileah Kromer of Goucher College.
Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College, said Jealous would have been better served initially by directly saying he is not a socialist. “It just makes people ask, well, what is he?” Eberly said. “And why doesn’t he just answer the question?”