MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took a page out of President Donald Trump's playbook Thursday, calling on all NFL players to stand during the national anthem.
Walker's tweets elicited a quick comeback from the Democratic lieutenant governor candidate, who questioned Walker's patriotism and asked why he never served in the military.
The back-and-forth played out in a series of tweets that came hours before the Thursday night kickoff of the NFL season. Walker, a Republican seeking a third term, punctuated one message with a cartoon image of himself known as a bitmoji in front of an American flag, hand on heart.
In another tweet, Walker asked whether Democratic candidate for governor Tony Evers supports "NFL players blatantly disrespecting our flag and the Wisconsin men and women in uniform? If he wants to be the leader of our state, he owes them an answer."
Whether they kneel or stay in the locker room, it’s disrespectful to the flag and the men and women who fought to defend it including those who are part of Wisconsin’s National Guard. 🇺🇸 Where does Tony Evers stand on this? #StandUpTony
As a candidate for governor, does Tony Evers support NFL players blatantly disrespecting our flag and the Wisconsin men and women in uniform? If he wants to be the leader of our state, he owes them an answer. #StandUpTony
Walker retweeted a January message from Evers' running mate Mandela Barnes where Barnes posted "Take a knee" in reaction to a story about whether Trump knew the words to the national anthem.
Barnes, who is African American, issued a stinging response , saying that "your president should learn the words" and "you just don't get it."
"Also, you could have served in THREE wars, why didn't you stand up then?" Barnes tweeted to Walker.
Preseason: NFL player actions during the national anthem
Preseason: NFL player actions during the national anthem
Aug 25, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10) kneels during the national anthem prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 25, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; The Chicago Bears stand during the national anthem prior to the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 24, 2018; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; The New York Jets stand for the national anthem before their game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 24, 2018; Landover, MD, USA; Denver Broncos players stand during the national anthem before the game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Chicago Bears players lock arms during the National Anthem before the game against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2018; Carson, CA, USA; Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung (76) holds his fist up during the national anthem before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2018; Nashville, TN, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) head coach Dirk Koetter and wide receiver Mike Evans (13) stand during the national anthem before the game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2018; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and players stand during the national anthem before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn (94) raises his fist during the national anthem prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; Members of the Indianapolis Colts stand during the national anthem before a game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 24: The Detroit Lions stand arm in arm during the National Anthem during a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on August 24, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 11: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings stands on the sideline with teammates during the singing of the National Anthem before an NFL preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on August 11, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 09: Jake Rodgers #68 and Alejandro Villanueva #78 of the Pittsburgh Steelers stand for the national anthem prior to the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on August 9, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 11: Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos on the field during the National Anthem before a game against the Minnesota Vikings during week one of preseason at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on August 11, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. The Vikings defeated the Broncos 42-28. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Miami Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson kneel during the national anthem as they prepare to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. The Bucs won, 26-24. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 09: The Cleveland Browns stand for the national anthem before the game against the New York Giants during their preseason game on August 9,2018 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears players stand during the national anthem before the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs in the third preseason game of the season on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
Walker, 50, has been in elected office since 1993 when he was 25 years old.
Walker's campaign had no immediate response. Evers' campaign also did not immediately respond to questions about whether Evers supports players who kneel during the anthem.
GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch did weigh in, tweeting that "neighbors have told me" Barnes kneels during the national anthem. Barnes responded by calling Kleefisch a liar.
Barnes also posted an image of himself wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback began a wave of protests by NFL players two seasons ago, first sitting on the bench and then kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
The protests have grown into one of the most polarizing issues in sports, with Trump loudly urging the league to suspend or fire players who demonstrate during the anthem.
Walker first weighed in publicly on the national anthem debate in October, sending a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith that said he believes kneeling players are showing disrespect for the flag and veterans.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Walker wanted players to stand, not take a knee.