JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour acknowledges he used the term "tar babies" to describe President Barack Obama's policies, but says "neither the context nor the connotation was intended to offend."
The website Politico first reported Barbour made the remark during a Nov. 6 conference call with clients of the Washington lobbying firm he founded, BGR.
In a statement sent to The Associated Press on Thursday, Barbour said that during a question-and-answer session on the call, someone asked if Democrats will run from or embrace Obama's policies and record in 2016. He said that's when he used the term to describe a difficult situation.
"I replied that once candidates embraced the President's policies and record they will be stuck with them — no matter how unpopular they are. Hence the literary reference," Barbour said. "If someone takes offense, I regret it."
In the "Uncle Remus" stories by late 19th and early 20th century author Joel Chandler Harris, the tar baby is a doll smeared with tar to trap Br'er Rabbit. However, the term is widely seen as a slur about black people.
Barbour said he used the term as it is defined in the Oxford American Dictionary: "a difficult problem, that's only aggravated by attempts to solve it."
Mississippi state Sen. John Horhn of Jackson, who is black, called Barbour's use of the phrase "racially insensitive and in poor taste."
Another black Democratic lawmaker, state Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones of Canton, criticized Barbour but said he didn't see the former governor's use of the phrase as racist.
"There have been people who used the term tar baby as a subtle way to belittle African-Americans. But in this instance, Gov. Barbour's statement was simply partisan rhetoric that any politically astute person is entitled to use," Jones said. "Gov. Barbour could have chosen more politically acceptable words to describe my president's policies, but that's not the Haley I know."
Barbour was governor from 2004 to 2008. He was chairman of the Republican National Committee in the mid-1990s and is a frequent guest on TV political talk shows, known for his thick Delta drawl and his unconventional turns of phrase.