U. S. Sen. David Vitter said Wednesday night campaign ads that accuse Democrat rival John Bel Edwards of wanting to release “thugs” from state prisons carries no racial overtones.

Vitter, a Republican from Metairie who is running for governor, was asked about the issue during a candidate forum at Southern University.

“There is no racial part of the definition of thug,” he said after the gathering. “President Obama has used the word thug. There is no racial overtones to the images we used in the ad.”

Vitter, who faces Edwards in the Nov. 21 runoff, has run ads that blasted Edwards comments on how to trim Louisiana’s incarceration rate.

The message claims the Democrat wants to release “5,500 violent thugs” from prison.

Edwards, a state representative from Amite, said his stance has been taken out of context.

He said he favors pretrial diversion programs and other steps to trim prison costs and use the savings to fight crime.

Louisiana has the world’s highest incarceration rate.