- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 4, 2016

SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky Republican, shunned even by his own party for posting images on Facebook depicting President Barack Obama as a monkey, held a defiant press conference during which he declined to apologize to those offended or suspend his campaign for the statehouse.

Dan Johnson, a Bullitt County preacher running for a seat in the state House of Representatives, maintained on Tuesday that the images were not racist. He claimed black pastors and legislators have voiced their support for his candidacy, though he refused to name them.

Johnson is running against incumbent Democrat Linda Belcher in the state’s 49th District, which includes part of Bullitt County just south of Louisville.

Republicans are battling on the November ballot to take control of the state House of Representatives, the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats. The GOP needs just four seats to claim control for the first time in nearly a century.

The Republican Party of Kentucky quickly sought to distance itself from Johnson, whose posts included a photo that had been doctored to give Obama and his wife apelike features and a picture of a young Ronald Reagan feeding a monkey with a bottle with the caption: “Rare photos of Ronald Reagan babysitting Barack Obama in early 1962.” His page also included a post calling Islam a “criminal syndicate.”

The GOP asked him to drop out of the race, saying his posts “represent the rankest sort of prejudice present in our society.”

Johnson attempted Tuesday to align himself with presidential candidate Donald Trump, who had been accused of bigotry throughout his campaign for the White House for criticizing Muslims, African-Americans, Mexicans and other minority groups.

Johnson mimicked Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan by pledging to “make Bullitt County great again and make Kentucky great again.” He described himself a “sledgehammer” and defended his postings by saying politicians have “made a monkey out of Kentucky.”

Belcher did not respond to a request for comment on her rival’s refusal to leave the race.

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