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Four of his Merchant Marine Academy classmates say Mark Kelly, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, was falsely accused of dressing up for Halloween decades ago as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
National File, a conservative news site, published images Friday asserting the image was Kelly, along with images from a yearbook reportedly dating to the mid-1980s. The site did not quote anyone verifying the images were of Kelly.
Kelly’s campaign also called the article false.
One classmate, Peter Lindsey, said in a statement through the campaign that he got a message via LinkedIn from someone who said he was working on a research project about Kelly and sought to verify the identity of the man wearing the costume.
Lindsey said the person shared the costume images through LinkedIn “and asked if the person in the costume was Mark Kelly. I told them no, and want to say again, Mark is not in those photos. I have spoken to numerous classmates about this this evening, and they concur that he is not in any of these pictures. The people spreading these lies should stop.”
The person who reached out to Lindsey was identified by the campaign as a paid consultant for a super political action committee aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., that is spending millions of dollars to help defeat Kelly.
Mark Baden, Kelly’s roommate at the Merchant Marine Academy, also said the images are not of Kelly.
“I was the First Rotation Regimental Commander,” Baden said. “These photos are absolutely not Mark Kelly, and anyone saying that is lying.”
National File was the site that uncovered North Carolina Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham’s romantic texting with a woman who is not his wife.
Patrick Howley, the National File reporter, stood by his story.
“I am frankly shocked that Mark Kelly would dare to deny this and at the mainstream media’s inability or unwillingness to do their job and report the truth about the candidates seeking high office in the United States,” Howley said in an emailed statement to The Arizona Republic.
“These aren’t pictures of Mark, and he never dressed up in such a costume,” Kelly’s campaign manager Jen Cox said in a statement. “The story is false and should be retracted immediately, and those who have spread this misinformation online should delete it. Anyone using it to try to smear a combat veteran should be ashamed of themselves.”
Jennifer Boykin, another classmate of Kelly’s, said the images published by the National File were not of Mark.
“I attended the Merchant Marine Academy with Mark,” her statement said. “I attended this event. This is not Mark in any of these photos.”
Another classmate said through a statement by Kelly’s campaign that the images are not of Kelly, a former Navy combat pilot and NASA astronaut.
“I attended the Merchant Marine Academy with Mark,” Ed McDonald said. “I attended this event as well and am in this photo. This is a group from 2nd Company. Mark was not in 2nd Company, and that is not him in these photos.”
The National File’s article published photos of a man it claimed was Kelly sporting a dark toothbrush mustache, an armband featuring what appears to be a swastika, aviator-style sunglasses, a pressed shirt, and a dark tie.
In one photo, the man is staring straight into a camera with a “Happy Halloween” banner hanging behind him. He was standing next to others dressed in costumes.
The National File’s story went viral Friday.
According to Kelly’s campaign, it injects a false but new line of attack against Kelly by allies of his Republican opponent, Sen. Martha McSally.
McSally has hammered Kelly on his indirect business dealings with China, paid speaking engagements, calls for stricter gun control, and a disparaging remark he made in 2018 about Hispanics while referring to his twin brother.
McSally’s campaign spokeswoman declined to comment immediately on the report.
President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., shared National File’s article.
Kelly has run his race as a moderate Democrat willing to work across party lines, a brand that successfully worked in 2018 for Democrat Kyrsten Sinema when she beat McSally that year in a race for the state’s other Senate seat.
Polls have consistently shown him with an advantage over McSally, and his campaign has dominated hers in fundraising.
The race could decide control of the U.S. Senate.