PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly is apologizing for a racially insensitive joke he made two years ago about his brother's extended time in space.
Speaking at a 2018 event in New Jersey, Kelly, also an astronaut, spoke about the changes his brother, Scott, underwent after spending a year on the international space station. Kelly noted to the audience that his brother's long exposure to zero-gravity and radiation altered his DNA and joked that Scott Kelly had a tough time readjusting.
“You know, it’s gotten so bad that we recently had to release him back into the wild," Kelly said at the time to laughter from the audience. "He’s like halfway between like an orangutan and a Howler monkey. We’ve even changed his name to Rodrigo."
Video of the Democratic candidate's comments surfaced Thursday after a Republican politician linked it on Twitter. "Shameful video of Mark Kelly making a racist joke to an all-white crowd. He must think people named Rodrigo look like monkeys. Time to move past this type of racism and time for the media to scrutinize Mark Kelly more thoroughly like they would a Republican," Sanchez said on the social media platform.
Moses Sanchez is a Phoenix-area businessman who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2018.
Within hours of the post, Kelly responded with a statement that reads, "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."
Strong performances in Arizona's two largest counties appear to be fueling the former astronaut's lead over the incumbent.
Polling trends have shown Kelly leading incumbent Sen. Martha McSally in the race that has a national focus because this could determine the balance of power in the Senate.
While the polls consistently show McSally trailing, the point spread has been inconsistent. One survey taken late last month put Kelly up 17 points, while another released this week had the race much tighter with McSally down by just three points.