updated 9/22/2006 2:16:52 PM ET 2006-09-22T18:16:52

The chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party apologized Thursday for accusing Republican gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey of using language that "borders on race-baiting" about crime and immigration.

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In a television interview broadcast earlier in the night, Chairman Philip Johnston complained about the tenor of the lieutenant governor's remarks during the campaign, although he did not provide specifics.

"I think the language that she's using ... borders on race-baiting and I think that it's fear-mongering of the worst sort, and I think she oughta stop it and she should not run a campaign that plays to the worst instincts in people," Johnston said.

The comments prompted Healy's campaign to call on Democratic candidate Deval Patrick, who is running to become the state's first black governor, to seek Johnston's resignation.

"It is disgraceful that Phil Johnston is injecting race into this campaign," said Tim O'Brien, Healey's campaign manager. "We don't believe this is the type of campaign Deval Patrick intends to run, but failure to demand this resignation will demonstrate otherwise and indicate he'll do or say anything to get elected."

The Patrick camp instead distanced itself from Johnston's remarks.

"Phil Johnston's comments do not reflect the position of the Patrick campaign," said Richard Chacon, the Democrat's communications director. "Deval Patrick understands that using immigration and other wedge issues to divide people is a typical Republican tactic. Our campaign has been about bringing people together."

Johnston issued a prompt apology.

"In reviewing my comments, I now realize I may have gone too far," the Democratic party chief said in a statement. "I have been concerned about how certain issues will be used by the Republican Party, and I let that influence my word choice."

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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