WASHINGTON Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul apologized on Friday for not paying enough attention to "ghost writers" he said were responsible for racist and anti-gay messages in newsletters and an ad published under his name two decades ago.
In a statement to Reuters, a spokesman for Paul continued to disavow the messages in the writings, but for the first time the Texas congressman's campaign said he should have done more to prevent them from being published.
Although widely viewed as a longshot to win the Republican nomination, Paul has led in recent polls in Iowa, where caucuses on January 3 will kick off the contest to select a nominee to challenge President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.
Paul's statement came a day after Reuters reported that a direct-mail ad for Paul's political and investment newsletters - they were sent around 1993 and appeared to include Paul's signature at the end - warned of a "coming race war" and a "federal-homosexual cover-up" to play down the impact of AIDS.
"Dr. Paul did not write that solicitation. It does not reflect his thoughts and is out of step with the message he has espoused for 40 years," Paul spokesman Jesse Benton said Friday in an e-mail.
Benton added that "there were multiple ghost writers involved and he does not know who penned the particular offensive sections.
"Ultimately, because the writing appeared under his name and he should have better policed it, Dr. Paul has assumed responsibility, apologized for his lack of oversight, and disavowed the offensive material."
The direct-mail letter was sent during a period in which Paul, 76, was a practicing physician in Texas after having served in Congress for nearly a decade. He returned to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1997.
The letter was provided to Reuters by James Kirchick, a contributing editor for The New Republic magazine, who wrote a profile of Paul during the 2008 presidential campaign.
The Reuters report about Paul's direct-mail letter came after reports resurfaced this week about racist, anti-homosexual and anti-Israel rants in the newsletters.
Articles in the newsletters criticized the U.S. holiday marking the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as "Hate Whitey Day," and said that AIDS sufferers "enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick."
QUESTIONS OF LEADERSHIP
Amid reports about the direct-mail letter and the Paul newsletters this week, supporters of his campaign have rallied on the Internet, calling the reports an effort by the mainstream media to derail his upstart campaign.
Political analysts say that if even if Paul did not write the messages in the ad and newsletters, his apparent inability to control his modest newsletter- and book-selling operation may not bode well for a man seeking to run the executive branch of the U.S. government.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School, said she has followed Paul for years and that the messages in the direct-mail ad were "emphatically inconsistent" with his frequent statements supporting minorities and gay rights.
But Jamieson questioned how it was "plausible" for Paul to deny responsibility for materials that had provided him income.
"What does that say about his managerial competence?" she asked.
Larry Sabato, a politics professor at the University of Virginia, agreed.
"Ron Paul would have us believe that this newsletter went out under his name and a direct-mail solicitation for it went out under his signature, yet he knew nothing about it. That is not credible," Sabato said.
"Or is it that Paul can't control his own staff?" Sabato asked. "Not exactly a qualification for the presidency. At the very least, more explanation is needed."
(Additional reporting by Samuel P. Jacobs; Editing by David Lindsey and Paul Simao)