updated 9/21/2006 2:42:41 PM ET 2006-09-21T18:42:41

A national black Republican group is running a radio advertisement accusing Democrats of starting the Ku Klux Klan and saying Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican, a claim King researchers challenge.

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Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the black Republican nominee for Maryland's open U.S. Senate seat, disavowed the ad Thursday and called for the Washington-based National Black Republican Association to stop running it. In a statement, he said it was "insulting to Marylanders and should come down immediately."

At an event in Baltimore, Steele said, "I don't know exactly what the intent of the ad was" but that "it's not helpful to the public discourse."

Broadcasts uncertain
The ad does not mention Steele or his Democratic opponent, Rep. Ben Cardin.

2006 key races

The president of the NBRA, Frances Rice, did not return calls for comment.

It was not immediately clear on which stations the 60-second ad was airing or how long it had been running, although a news release on the group's Web site dated two weeks ago announced its release. The Washington Post reported for a story in Thursday's editions that the ad was running on Baltimore stations.

The spot, a conversation between two women, begins with one saying, "Dr. King was a real man. You know he was a Republican."

That assertion was challenged Thursday by Steve Klein, a senior researcher with the Atlanta-based King Center. Klein said King never endorsed candidates from either party.

"I think it's highly inaccurate to say he was a Republican because there's really no evidence," Klein said.

A King biographer, Taylor Branch, also said Thursday that King was nonpartisan.

Ku Klux Klan creators
In the ad, a woman goes on, "Democrats passed those black codes and Jim Crow laws. Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan." "The Klan?" the other woman replies. "White hoods and sheets?"

The first woman also says, "Democrats fought all civil rights legislation from the 1860s to the 1960s. Democrats released those vicious dogs and fire hoses on blacks."

The ad asserts that "Democrats want to keep us poor while voting only Democrat" and, "Democrats want us to accept same-sex marriages, teen abortions without a parent's consent and suing the Boy Scouts for saying 'God' in their pledge."

About the GOP, the ad says "Republicans freed us from slavery and put our right to vote in the constitution."

The KKK, never a political party, was a racist group of white men that started in the South after the Civil War, when Republicans were almost unheard of in former Confederate states. The mainstream Democratic Party never endorsed the Klan nor claimed to have founded it.

Racial politics
The national black Republican group, a nonprofit, was founded a year ago to "be a resource for the black community on Republican ideals and promote the traditional values of the black community," according to its Web site. The group does not say how many members it has.

Race is a prominent theme in the Maryland race for the seat held by the retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md. Steele, the first black candidate elected statewide in Maryland, faces a white Democrat in a heavily Democratic state with the highest percentage of black residents - 29 percent - of any state outside the South. Cardin fired a staffer last week who made racially charged comments on her personal Web log about Steele, a black campaign worker and Cardin's Jewish supporters.

Several Maryland black Democrats have endorsed Cardin, including former congressman Kweisi Mfume, who narrowly lost the Democratic primary last week to Cardin. But Steele has announced plans to seek the votes of black Democrats and planned to attend a rally Thursday in Baltimore to seek their support.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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