Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes called the founding of the United States "awful" and said the country must take steps to "repair the harm" through education, according to a video of his comments.
"Things were bad. Things were terrible. The founding of this nation? Awful," said Barnes in a video clip of his remarks from a question-and-answer session in Portage, Wis., on August 19, 2021. "The impacts are felt today; they're going to continue to be felt unless we address it in a meaningful way."
The comments, which Wisconsin radio host Dan O'Donnell first reported on Sunday, could fuel concerns about the candidate's history of controversial statements and far-left policy positions.
Barnes, who serves as Wisconsin lieutenant governor and is locked in a competitive primary race against hedge fund billionaire Alex Lasry and state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, has struggled to distance himself from some of the more radical policies on the left.
He has faced criticism for posing with a T-shirt that called for abolishing immigration enforcement, sponsoring a bill that would eliminate cash bail, and partnering and fundraising with "Defund the Police" groups.
Barnes made the comments about the U.S. founding during a national debate last summer over critical race theory in K-12 schools. Critical race theory argues the United States is systemically bigoted and teaches subjects such as math, reading, and history through the lenses of race and racism.
Many parents have called for banning critical race theory from public schools. Barnes in his speech appeared to defend the curriculum.
"Imagine being so ashamed of how we got to this place in America that you outlaw teaching," he said.
While the founding of the United States was "awful," he added, "We are here now, and we should commit ourselves to doing everything we can do to repair the harm, because it still exists today—the harm, the damage. Whether it was colonization, or whether it was slavery."
This isn't the first time Barnes appeared to stand up for critical race theory. Last June, he argued that it was no worse than tax dollars going to fund religious education.
"Many of the same people rallying against critical race theory on the basis of 'indoctrination' are totally cool with tax dollars going towards religious education," he wrote on Twitter. "Make it make sense."
Barnes's campaign in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon defended his remarks.
"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," said spokeswoman Maddy McDaniel.
A Marquette poll in June showed Barnes and Lasry virtually tied in the race, with Godlewski a distant third.
The winner of the Democratic primary, which is scheduled for August 9, will face off against Sen. Ron Johnson (R.) in one of the most competitive Senate races of the midterm elections.