CHICAGO (AP) - U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh told a crowd at a recent town hall meeting that the Democratic Party's "game" is to make Latinos dependent on government just like "they got African-Americans dependent upon government."
The tea party-backed Republican, who has a reputation for eyebrow-raising comments and is up for re-election this year, also said that the Rev. Jesse Jackson would be out of work if blacks "weren't so dependent upon government."
In response, Tammy Duckworth, the Democrat running against Walsh in a newly drawn suburban Chicago congressional district, called the first-term congressman's remarks offensive and irresponsible. Jackson added that the comments were meant to "incite and polarize."
Walsh's remarks, which he made Saturday, also circulated on several political websites and drew thousands of comments.
Walsh spokesman Christian Morgan said Thursday that the candidate was not being critical of blacks, but was trying to make a larger point about the increased dependence on government in the country and the difference between his views and Duckworth's opinions.
"He believes there's a certain amount of people in this country, because of Democratic policies, that have become dependent on government," Morgan said.
Walsh has made a number of contentious comments since winning an upset victory in his suburban Chicago district in 2010 as part of a Republican surge in Illinois. His video lecture of President Barack Obama for spending like "a drunken sailor" helped make him a rising tea-party star.
But he faces a tough re-election fight against Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, in a diverse district redrawn by Democrats last year to favor their party. More than 12 percent of the people living in Illinois' 8th Congressional District are Asian and 22 percent are Hispanic.
His latest statements were videotaped by an anti-tea party group at one of Walsh's regular town hall meetings. The video shows the congressman appearing to get agitated as he shouts about all the people who "want handouts" and the Democrats' plan to create even more government dependency.
"That's their game," he told an audience of a few dozen before making the remarks about blacks, Hispanics and Jackson.
On Thursday, Jackson told The Associated Press that Walsh's comments were nothing more than a political tactic designed to "incite and polarize." Jackson said his life's work has been to "gain for all vulnerable Americans equal protection under the law."
Further, he said, Walsh ignores the fact that the majority of people receiving government aid are not black and that the congressman is demonstrating a bias against the poor in favor of the wealthy.
"For the rich, it's called a subsidy. For the poor, it is welfare," Jackson said.
Duckworth suggested in a statement that Walsh's comments were the latest in a growing list of racially insensitive statements.
"Congressman Walsh's remarks are not only offensive, they are especially irresponsible coming from a sitting member of Congress," she said.