Republicans have sunk to a new low in their campaign to retain control of the House and Senate in 2006. They’ve apparently decided to claim the image and stature of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as exclusively their own.

King biographer Taylor Branch and those who were close to the civil rights leader have long insisted that King was nonpartisan. But the Washington-based National Black Republican Association has begun airing a deeply offensive and historically inaccurate radio ad in Maryland that not only alleges that Democrats started the Klu Klux Klan and want to keep African Americans “poor while only voting Democrat,” but also states unequivocally that Dr. King “was a Republican”.

To his credit, Maryland Republican senatorial candidate Michael Steele, who happens to be African-American, has denounced the ad. But the fact that it was ever run in first place highlights a consistent problem the GOP seems to have with racial sensitivity. In Montana, embattled Republican Senator Conrad Burns has implied taxicab drivers are would be terrorists. When asked by an elderly rancher, “Conrad, how can you live back there [in Washington] with all those niggers?” Burns famously replied that it was “a hell of a challenge.”

Virginia Senator George Allen’s prejudices are becoming progressively more troubling. Beyond the infamous “Macaca” incident, there are now new allegations that Allen used racial epithets during the his youth to describe African Americans and once even conspired to put the severed head of a deer in the mailbox of a local black family. Allen, raised in Southern California, also appears to have romanticized some of the worst aspects of Southern history by fighting in favor of the Confederate flag and against establishing a Martin Luther King holiday.

Which brings us back to Dr. King. He would never have approved of using race to divide people. Anyone who’s heard his speeches or read his works should know his life’s work was to unite people of all races. It’s both tragic and sad that partisan organizations like the National Black Republican Association would misrepresent him in the hopes of bolstering a candidate who’s trailing in the polls.