From CNN's Ted Barrett
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A ranking Democrat in the House of Representative is apologizing for saying an African-American Senate candidate "slavishly" supported the Republican Party.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said he meant no offense when he made the remark about Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the GOP nominee for the seat being vacated by longtime Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Hoyer said, "I should not have used those words."
Hoyer was speaking to a largely black audience at a campaign event for Steele's Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, when he made the comment.
Steele's spokesman, Doug Heye, called Hoyer's comments "insensitive and pretty stupid."
While Hoyer apologized for the comments, he continued to criticize Steele's support of the GOP.
"If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense, let me assure him that none was intended," Hoyer said. "But Mr. Steele continuously tries to divert attention from the fact that he is an unwavering supporter of the Republican agenda and of President Bush and Vice President Cheney."
Hoyer's office also released a statement from Melvin Forbes, a black businessman who sponsored the campaign event, who said "there was absolutely no offense taken or noticed."
Heye disagreed, saying there are "a great deal of people upset about it."
Steele's campaign released statements from leaders of the National Black Church Initiative that condemned Hoyer's comments.
"This is nothing new for Steny Hoyer," said Heye.
He said that in 2002, Hoyer was quoted referring to Steele as a "token" candidate -- although Hoyer said at the time that he was quoted out of context.
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