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Lone female candidate for Maryland governor breastfeeds her baby in online ad

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Democrat Krish Vignarajah released the first video ad of her campaign for Maryland governor on Wednesday with a provocative image new to state politics: The candidate breastfeeds her infant daughter as she emphasizes the need for more mothers and women in state leadership.

The 30-second online campaign ad opens with Vignarajah dressed in business attire and breastfeeding her 9-month-old daughter, Alana O’Mara.

The voiceover notes that no women hold any of Maryland’s 14 statewide or federal offices and goes on to say that women in leadership enact better policies.

“It’s about me owning the fact that I’m a woman,” Vignarajah said in an interview.

Vignarajah said the campaign deliberately scripted the scene into the ad in an effort to drive home the fact that she’s the only woman in the race for governor and to highlight that women in leadership can push for different policies than men.

“This is my life,” she said. “It’s what moms have been doing forever, juggling work and getting things done. … When women serve, you have better outcomes.”

The web ad, which is being circulated on Facebook, is the latest in a string of women breastfeeding in high-profile situations. In Wisconsin, a Democratic candidate for governor started breastfeeding while taping a campaign ad, and then decided to keep the moment in the final cut released early this month. In February, Gap released an ad with a model breastfeeding her child, a candid moment that became central to the campaign.

Vignarajah faces six men in Maryland’s crowded Democratic primary race. She’s selected Sharon Blake, a former leader in Baltimore’s teachers union, as her running mate. The pair is Maryland’s first major party all-female ticket in a generation.

Vignarajah said the decision to emphasize gender in her race is a strategic move and a natural extension of her political brand.

Women are expected to make up a large portion of Democratic primary voters this year, a voting bloc fueled by a rise in activism that was embodied by the 2016 Women’s March on Washington.

Vignarajah, who was a policy director for former first lady Michelle Obama, said that her platform reflects issues that matter most to women — universal pre-kindergarten, anti-sexual assault and harassment initiatives, and large investments in education.

She said she was braced for critics who may question using breastfeeding moments in her ad, but that “what should shock people is that today there are no women in any of the 14 statewide and federal offices” in the state.

“It’s within that sad reality that I embrace that I’m the only woman in the race,” she said. “Women are tired of being asked to wait their turns or being forced to play second fiddle.”

The winner of the June 26 Democratic primary will face incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in November. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 in Maryland, Hogan has remained popular and has amassed a campaign war chest that exceeds those of all of his competitors combined.

Vignarajah acknowledged the tough climb for Democrats in her campaign ad, but suggests she may have a secret weapon.

“Some say no man can beat Larry Hogan,” she said. “Well, I’m no man.”

ecox@baltsun.com

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