In a video posted Sunday by Milwaukee-based talk show host Dan O’Donnell, Barnes, a Democrat, can be heard telling an audience “things were bad, things were terrible,” while discussing America’s origins.
“The founding of this nation? Awful,” Barnes continued, adding that Americans ought to commit themselves to doing everything possible to repairing the harms of the past.
These harms, he said, include slavery and colonization, the impacts of which “are felt today.”
“They’re going to continue to be felt unless we address it, in a meaningful way,” Barnes said.
Barnes made history in 2018 to become Wisconsin’s first Black lieutenant governor. He grabbed national attention in 2020 in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as he pushed for police reform and an end to racial inequity.
Last summer, Barnes announced his candidacy to unseat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in the November midterms. Wisconsin will be a crucial battleground in the elections and could end up deciding which party controls the chamber.
In a statement to Fox News, a spokesperson for Barnes’ campaign said, “Painting the Lt. Governor’s comment as anything other than a condemnation of slavery is a sad GOP attempt to distract from Ron Johnson trying to literally overthrow the government of this country and strip reproductive rights from millions of Americans.”
The winner of the Aug. 9 Democratic primary will advance to face Johnson, who is seeking a third term after previously promising to not run again. Johnson is also one of Trump’s loudest backers and has been endorsed by the former president.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.