The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "tar baby" as a sticky situation, but the phrase originated with the Uncle Remus stories, told in dialect, by Joel Chandler Harris. Many people consider the term "tar baby" to be a racial epithet.
Among them, noted the New York Daily News, is Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP. She called the congressman's words "vitriolic."
"The world already views [El Paso County] as ultraconservative, ultra right-wing, tea-party-loving, gay-bashing, an epicenter of hate. With two vitriolic words, our own congressman again sealed our fate," Harris Lytle told the Colorado Springs Gazette.
And Diana Allen-Phillips, president of the area Urban League, told the Gazette, "You can't just toss that phrase around and not have it associated with the past. If Barack Obama was not African-American, would he have used the same terminology?"
Lamborn's spokeswoman, Catherine Mortensen, said in a written statement Monday that Lamborn had simply meant to refer to a sticky situation. She says Lamborn sent an apology letter to President Obama.
"The congressman regrets that he chose the phrase 'tar baby' rather than the word 'quagmire,' Mortenson said in a written statement on Monday.
In 2007, the Daily News reported, then Gov. Mitt Romney used the phrase referring to the Big Dig construction boondoggle in Boston, and in 2008 Sen. John McCain used the term while discussing divorce. Both of them apologized.