MADISON — Former Democratic state Rep. Mandela Barnes said Wednesday in launching his campaign for lieutenant governor that he wasn't asking for voter support just "because I'm young and black."
But Barnes, a 31-year-old African American from Milwaukee, said Democrats need to do a better job connecting with people of color and young voters. And he said his message of championing education access, economic possibilities and environmental protection is one that resonates with them and others who have felt left behind under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Barnes launched his candidacy Wednesday, saying he wasn't going to endorse anyone in the crowded field for governor that has nine top-tier candidates. Whoever emerges from the lieutenant governor primary will be paired with the gubernatorial primary winner.
Other Democrats registered to run for lieutenant governor are Sheboygan businessman Kurt Kober, Rob Slamka and William Henry Davis III.
Kober, 39, who was born and raised in Wisconsin but has lived outside of the state for the past decade, had originally been eying a run for governor but decided to go for lieutenant governor instead.
Barnes argued Wednesday that as a former member of the Assembly from 2013 to 2017, and as second vice chair of the state Democratic Party, he is the most qualified candidate. He works for State Innovation Exchange doing research and policy work for state lawmakers.
Barnes said his message of advocating for economic equality will resonate with voters who haven't seen their wages increase and don't have access to affordable health care.
Barnes ran for state Senate in 2016, losing in the primary to incumbent Sen. Lena Taylor.
Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman said that after being rejected by voters, Barnes will have a hard time convincing voters to support him. Zimmerman also referenced a 2015 incident caught on tape where Barnes confronted a well-known protester outside of the Capitol, saying that shows he's not fit for office.
Neither Barnes nor the protester, Miles Kristan, was cited following the altercation.