Mark Kelly

NASA Space Shuttle astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, husband of wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., listens during a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, Friday, July 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(The Center Square) – Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly issued an apology after a video of him making a racist joke surfaced Thursday. 

Moses Sanchez, who’s unsuccessfully run for multiple offices in Arizona, posted a video of Kelly taking questions at a 2018 paid speaking engagement in New Jersey. 

The astronaut Kelly gave the insensitive remark answering a question about whether he thought Mars would be colonized, referencing the changes his astronaut twin brother had experienced after a year in space.

“I think the word hasn’t gotten out how bad it is for him,” he said. “It’s gotten so bad that we had to recently release him back into the wild. He’s like, halfway between, like, an orangutan and a howler monkey. We even changed his name to ‘Rodrigo.’”

In his Tweet, Sanchez said Kelly, a Democrat, deserved the scrutiny often given to Republicans for racially-insensitive comments.

“Shameful video of Mark Kelly making a racist joke to an all-white crowd,” he said. “He must think people named Rodrigo look like monkeys. Time to move past this type of racism & time for the media to scrutinize Mark Kelly more thoroughly like they would a Republican.”

Kelly issued an apology shortly after the video went public. 

“My brother’s year in space was really hard on him and we tried to bring some light to his difficult ordeal, but this comment does not do that and I apologize and deeply regret it,” he told the Arizona Republic Thursday. 

Kelly hopes to unseat Republican Martha McSally in November. Polling shows Kelly ahead, but McSally has partly closed the gap in recent weeks, thanks to a barrage of negative ad campaigns drawing attention to Kelly’s ties to a Chinese company and his stance on gun rights. 

The episode has brought comparisons to former Virginia U.S. Sen. George Allen’s calling of a political tracker at one of his 2006 re-election campaign events a “macaca,” widely seen as a racial epithet. The tracker was an American citizen of Indian descent. Allen also apologized, but the episode was credited for his loss to Democrat Jim Webb.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois and Arizona government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Central Illinois and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.