updated 10/18/2006 4:28:37 PM ET 2006-10-18T20:28:37

Maryland Republicans decried as “racist” a Democratic congressman’s comment that lieutenant governor and Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele “slavishly” supports the GOP.

Steele, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, is black.

Rep. Steny Hoyer made the remark Sunday as he introduced Steele’s campaign rival, Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin, to a group of black business owners. Hoyer told the group that Steele had a career of “slavishly supporting the Republican Party.”

Although the House Minority Whip’s word choice did not cause a visible reaction from the crowd, Maryland Republicans were quick to take offense.

State Republican Party executive director John Gibson said in a statement that Hoyer’s weekend remarks were “racist attacks” that referred to slavery.

Hoyer apologized for the remark.

“I should not have used that word. If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense, let me assure him that none was intended,” Hoyer said in a statement.

A spokesman for Steele, Doug Heye, said Steele was “very bothered” by the remark.

Steele told The Sun of Baltimore that Hoyer’s description was “the height of arrogance.”

“It goes to just the sheer craziness of some in the Democratic Party who think they can use racist terms and infer things about me just because I’m an African-American Republican,” he said.

Cardin and Steele are seeking to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes. If Steele wins, he would become the first black senator from Maryland.

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