WARREN - A local Democratic state legislator said that he never called Mahoning Valley voters racists.
State Rep. Thomas Letson, D-Warren, was quoted in a Youngstown newspaper article as saying there are ''1,000 reasons to vote for Obama and one reason why you won't - race.''
The newspaper attributed similar comments to state Rep. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown. Both Letson and Hagan are white.
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who is black, is the Democratic nominee for president. He is running against Republican Sen. John McCain, who is white.
Letson, on Wednesday, told the Tribune Chronicle that the comments were not accurate.
''There are too many issues in this race, this contest, for it to come down to one issue,'' Letson said. ''I'm proud of my community for the way they have dealt with this time and time again.''
Letson pointed out that his district, which includes Warren, has repeatedly overcome racial issues and as evidence cited the city's black safety-service director, black school board president and others.
A message seeking comment was left with Hagan.
Letson and Hagan made the comments to the Youngstown Vindicator on Monday while criticizing McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, before their rally Tuesday in Vienna.
According to the newspaper story, they also said swing voters, independents and Democrats who are or will support McCain are racist.
Todd Franko, Vindicator newsroom editor, said the paper stands behind the report.
''The story stands for itself,'' Franko said. ''We've had no complaints or calls from either person, Letson or Hagan. They know how to reach us if they had problems with the story.''
Letson said he did not challenge the newspaper because he's not a confrontational man. When asked if the newspaper's headline ''Democrats accuse locals of being racist toward Obama'' was accurate, Letson replied, ''No.''
When asked if the newspaper's quote, "Race - that's the only reason people in the Valley won't vote for him," attributed to Letson was accurate, Letson replied, ''No.''
The Ohio Republican Party said Democrats are smearing Ohio voters as racist and dismissing legitimate issues to play the race card.
''Democrats have dismissed the legitimate concerns of thousands of Ohio's undecided voters,'' said Ohio Republican party Chairman Kevin DeWine. ''These voters have serious doubts of Sen. Obama's experience, his costly agenda and his drill nowhere, tax everything proposals. Ohioans deserve better than these insulting accusations ...''
State Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood, D-Niles, defended Mahoning Valley voters, said that if Letson and Hagan made those comments, it would be appalling.
''I have faith that my constituents, and all the voters in the Mahoning Valley, can make their decisions based on the important issues, not race,'' Harwood said.