Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage on Thursday defended earlier comments in which he said a Democratic party official suggested he was unfit to be governor because he is a Franco-American Catholic.

During a testy exchange on a Portland radio program, LePage and WGAN co-host Ken Altshuler went round and round for several minutes about whether the GOP nominee had any evidence to back up what Altshuler said were accusations of racism against Arden Manning.

Over the weekend, LePage said his opponents “were saying that I am not fit to be a governor because I am French Catholic.” LePage named Manning — the Maine Democratic Party’s 2010 campaign director — as the person “spilling this garbage,” a charge that Manning has called an outright lie.

On Thursday, LePage said he believes Manning and the Democrats labeled him as a creationist because of his background and religious beliefs. During primary debates, LePage indicated he would support the teaching of creationism in schools.

When Altshuler pressed again for proof, the exchange got heated.

“I’ve answered the question, move on,” LePage said.

“No, the question was have you found any evidence that Arden Manning said because you are a Franco-American Catholic, you are not qualified to be governor?” Altshuler said. “We will talk about creationism in a minute. Have you found any evidence that Arden Manning made this racist comment?”

Replied LePage: “I have looked at my life, I have looked at my career. There is nowhere in my career where the term creationist comes in. The only part of my life … that anyone can ever consider me a creationist is because I am a French Catholic and I believe in God.”

After another go-around, Altshuler eventually asked LePage whether he was interpreting Manning’s labeling him as a creationist as saying, “you are not qualified to be governor because you are a Franco-American Catholic.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” LePage said.

Manning has acknowledged mentioning LePage’s views on creationism, but points out that he did it only once in a fundraising e-mail in which he also referred to the GOP nominee as “an unabashed agent of the Christian Right.”

But neither Manning nor the Maine Democratic Party had mentioned LePage’s Catholicism or his French-Canadian heritage in any public statements. Party officials also point out that numerous elected Democrats in Maine, including U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, are Franco-American.

Democratic officials have demanded an apology from LePage, calling his statements potentially slanderous.

While the Maine Democratic Party has gone after LePage for his statements, the Democratic nominee for governor, Senate President Libby Mitchell, has stayed quiet since releasing a statement earlier this week.

Mitchell did not mention the creationism fracas and was not asked about it during a meeting with an Old Town Rotary Club on Thursday evening.