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State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling leads a soggy but enthusiastic sign-waving effort during Monday morning rush hour at the intersection of Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue in Dundalk.
State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling leads a soggy but enthusiastic sign-waving effort during Monday morning rush hour at the intersection of Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue in Dundalk. (Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun)

A Maryland state senator who just launched a congressional campaign has denied posting a now-deleted tweet that called U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar an “illegal.”

Johnny Ray Salling, a Republican from eastern Baltimore County, was responding to a July 23 post from a Florida Republican about a request for an ethics investigation into Omar, a Democrat from Minneapolis.

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Salling replied: “Get rid of this illegal know!!!!!”

The weeks-old tweet went unnoticed until this weekend, when several people began responding to Salling. Some called him racist, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on Salling to apologize.

A screenshot from Twitter shows Baltimore County state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling responding to a post about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar by calling her “illegal.” The senator’s tweet was deleted after The Baltimore Sun asked about it. Salling also is running for Congress.
A screenshot from Twitter shows Baltimore County state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling responding to a post about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar by calling her “illegal.” The senator’s tweet was deleted after The Baltimore Sun asked about it. Salling also is running for Congress.

Reached Monday morning, Salling said he didn’t remember posting the tweet. After speaking to The Baltimore Sun, Salling deleted the tweet.

“I need to look into that,” Salling said when first asked about the tweet. “Honestly and truly, I don’t recall that. I’m being honest with you. It might have been misplaced. I have tweeted one time, that’s the time I announced.”

That tweet was on Aug. 13 when Salling tweeted at President Donald Trump about his congressional campaign. He thanked the president in that tweet and said, “Praying that I have the opportunity to work with you.”

Besides that tweet, Salling said, he hasn’t posted on his account. Asked if someone was tweeting on his behalf, Salling suggested he may have been hacked. He said his Facebook account has been hacked before.

Salling said he deleted the tweet about Omar because he doesn’t use social media to criticize others.

“That’s not me. I don’t react that way. I don’t tweet that way and I don’t do Facebook that way,” he said.

Salling said when he launched his congressional campaign, he pledged to the incumbent, Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, that he “wouldn’t say anything bad about him.”

Salling’s Twitter timeline has only a few posts from this summer, but it had frequent posts during the January-through-April General Assembly session, including notices of how to apply for a Senate scholarship, an announcement for his district night in Annapolis and photos with visitors to his Senate office. His timeline also includes a handful of videos of Salling speaking from his Senate office.

Salling said that during the session, he would post to Facebook and his staff would cross-post to Twitter.

After deleting the tweet about Omar, Salling said he changed his Twitter password.

Omar is one of the freshman congresswomen of color who have been targeted for criticism by Trump and his supporters. She came to the United States with her family as a refugee from Somalia as a child, and later earned citizenship in 2000 long before entering politics.

Omar has been dogged by allegations that she married her brother as part of an immigration fraud scheme, claims that she has called “baseless rumors” and “disgusting lies.” The Minneapolis Star Tribune investigated the claim, and could not prove whether her former husband was related to Omar.

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The conservative group Judicial Watch has requested a congressional ethics investigation into Omar.

Salling is among three Republicans who have registered to run for the 2nd District, which snakes through the Baltimore region, encompassing parts of the city as well as Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties. The other Republicans are Genevieve Morris of Elkridge and Tim Fazenbaker of Sparrows Point.

Two Democrats have registered to run against Ruppersberger: Michael Feldman of Baltimore and Jake Pretot of Laurel.

Ruppersberger has represented the district since 2003.

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