Former Berkeley County delegate and current Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Faircloth said Thursday that a joke he told referring to President Obama as "Sambo" and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as a "bimbo" was simply an attempt to "bring a little humor" to the campaign.
Faircloth said he apologizes for the joke if it offended anyone, which it has, including a West Virginia branch of the NAACP.
He said the joke he told at a candidates forum on April 29 in Romney, W.Va., is representative of the humor in politics. Faircloth cited examples from his own life that he said prove he is neither racist nor sexist, such as the fact that he raised three biracial children as a godfather.
"There's nothing racist or feminist about me," Faircloth said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.
Faircloth said some people in West Virginia think President Obama has tried to punish the state. And he said if it takes a joke to bring attention to that issue, "I don't mind doing it."
Faircloth told the joke during a forum hosted by We the People of Hampshire County, according to a story published Wednesday in The Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail.
Faircloth said the joke was about President Obama being unhappy with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As a result, President Obama, for his upcoming campaign, would decide to replace Biden with actor Sylvester Stallone. Obama would then replace Clinton with Pelosi.
Faircloth said Obama's campaign slogan could then be: "Vote Sambo, Rambo and Bimbo."
The comments angered members of the Jefferson County, W.Va., branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In a faxed statement Thursday signed by branch President George Rutherford, the organization asked voters to be mindful of Faircloth's remarks.
Rutherford said in the statement that as a result of that type of attitude, "we could be pushed back to the 1940s era in race relations. Mr. Faircloth knows full well that these terms are racist and sexist and demeaning, meant to offend women and African-Americans. Mr. Faircloth later said his remarks were a 'joke,' but as African-Americans, we understand his feeble attempt to try to smooth things over. It was not a joke."
Regarding his use of the word "Sambo," Faircloth said perhaps he should have told the joke differently.
"If I offended anybody, well then I apologize to them," he said.
When Faircloth told the joke at the forum, it offended a lot of people, according to Terry Craver, president of We the People of Hampshire County, which has identified with the Tea Party movement.
Craver said Faircloth has apologized to him personally, but declined to issue one to that community. The group does not want him back, said Craver, who thought the joke was "totally inappropriate."
Arguing that joking is part of politics, Faircloth referred to a comment that Obama made in Austin, Texas, shortly before Faircloth told his joke.
Obama suggested during his appearance to talk about immigration reform that Republicans might want a moat filled with alligators to keep illegal immigrants out of the country, Faircloth said.
"I didn't take that personally," he said.
Faircloth said Obama has had a tough time getting support in West Virginia, and some residents believe he is punishing the state by shutting down coal-mining operations.