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Debate Moderator Becomes The Story With Question To Muslim Candidate

Televised debates often make a splash when a candidate makes a gaffe.  But sometimes it's the moderator who draws all the attention.

During a televised debate with the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor this week, WJLA moderator Dave Lucas asked candidate Sam Rasoul if he could assure voters he would represent Virginians of all faiths.

Scott Simpson, with the group Muslim Advocates, says that question employs anti-Muslim tropes.  "We would never accept a moderator who asked a question about whether a candidate would be beholden to their Jewish donors or their Christian donors," Simpson argues, "and it makes no sense for this to be acceptable to ask about Muslim donors. Muslim candidates for office are frequently targeted for hate speech and death threats."

Rasoul, who is a Muslim and a Delegate representing Roanoke City, says the whole thing is a distraction. "No one else is asked these questions," Rasoul says. "And sadly this isn't what Virginians are wanting to hear about. They're wanting to hear about how we're going to improve access to their health care, about broadband issues, how we are going to safety get kids back in school."

Rasoul is one of six Democrats campaigning to get the nomination for lieutenant governor in the primary next month.  

Wednesday evening, Muslim Advocates said Sinclair Broadcast Group, the corporate owner of WJLA, had sent a statement apologizing for the question.  The television station also posted the same statement on its website: "During an important, relevant exchange related to campaign finance during the debate, our anchor, Dave Lucas, asked an inappropriate and disrespectful question to Delegate Sam Rasoul. We have reached out directly to Delegate Rasoul’s campaign to sincerely apologize for this question and for the impact of these words."

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.