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WEST JORDAN, Utah (AP) -- Saying they embrace his principles, leaders in the Utah Senate are backing the re-election of Republican Sen. Chris Buttars, who is drawing challengers within his own party after making racially insensitive remarks.
A letter signed by Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, and others is encouraging Republican delegates to keep Buttars as the GOP nominee. The Salt Lake County party holds its convention Saturday.
"We support his bid for re-election and hope you will, too," the letter says. "Senator Buttars is an unwavering supporter of Republican principles. He has consistently and passionately espoused the principles that we hold dear."
In February, Buttars, R-West Jordan, came under fire when he said of a bill on school funding: "This baby is black, I'll tell you. It's a dark, ugly thing."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People pledged to do everything it could to oust Buttars from office.
He described his critics as part of a "hate lynch mob." But Buttars also apologized for the "stupid" remarks during a visit to a Baptist church, whose members mostly are black.
While the NAACP has called for his resignation, Senate leaders have stood by Buttars.
Buttars has three Republican challengers. One of them said the campaign letter goes too far.
"The problem is that it reinforces the good ol' boy network that exists within the Senate," Gary Armstrong said.
"With an intraparty race like this, I think that the leadership of the Senate needs to let the home-district voters decide who they want to represent them," he said.
Valentine said Senate leaders usually stay neutral on challenges within the party but decided that Buttars' situation was unique.
"We felt it was important with Senator Buttars that the delegates make a decision based on the merits and not make it on what we felt were rumors and innuendo," he said.
"He used a bad metaphor, but it was not intended to be a racial slur and we felt like the delegates ought to make the decision on the merits of the race and not on the sideshow," Valentine said.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)