FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Republican Party of Kentucky has asked a state House candidate to drop out of the race after he posted several photos on Facebook depicting President Barack Obama and the first lady as monkeys.
Republican Party of Kentucky chairman Mac Brown and House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover both signed the letter. It says while Dan Johnson has a First Amendment right to free speech, elected leaders "must hold ourselves and those with whom we serve to a higher standard."
"As leaders we are expected to not only understand our rights but also exercise good judgment in how we use them to express ourselves," Brown and Hoover wrote.
Johnson did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Johnson said Friday the posts were satire and that he would not drop out of the race.
The posts on Dan Johnson's Facebook page include a picture of a chimpanzee with the caption "Obama's baby picture" and a photo that had been altered to give Obama and his wife, Michelle, ape-like features. Johnson's page also displayed a photo of a young Ronald Reagan feeding a monkey with a bottle with the caption: "Rare photos of Ronald Reagan babysitting Barack Obama in early 1962." His page also included a post calling Islam a "criminal syndicate."
Johnson said Friday "I really don't think I've done anything as someone to be a racist." Brown and Hoover said the posts "demonstrate a total disrespect for a number of minority communities.
"Your comments after the fact show either a lack of understanding or concern for how offensive this action is to respectable people of any race," they wrote.
If Johnson does withdraw, Republicans would not be able to replace him on the ballot, Republican Party spokesman Tres Watson said. That would hurt Republican chances of winning a majority in the state House of Representatives. Johnson is challenging incumbent Democrat Linda Belcher in the state's 49th district, which includes part of Bullitt County just south of Louisville.
The Kentucky House of Representatives is the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats. Republicans need to pick up four seats to win a majority for the first time since 1920.