PHOENIX — The Arizona Republican Party on Friday defended its release of an Old West style wanted poster criticizing Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in her campaign for the Senate, after Democrats said the poster depicted bullet holes that are inappropriate and disturbing.

Kirkpatrick’s campaign called the poster a “tasteless and ignorant stunt.”

State Republican Party spokesman Matt Specht called the criticism an attempt to distract from the poster’s message that Kirkpatrick avoids public appearances in which she might be asked tough questions.

Kirkpatrick’s campaign and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in separate statements said the poster’s bullet holes amounted to inappropriate imagery related to violence. Giffords, a Democrat, left Congress after she was gravely wounded in a 2011 assassination attempt.

“There is absolutely no place for this disturbing imagery in Arizona politics,” Kirkpatrick campaign manager Max Cross said.

Specht in a telephone interview Friday said that round splotches on the poster Kirkpatrick labeled as bullet holes were intended at conveying a weathered image of the Old West.

“They could be just holes, whether it was something that was nailed to a tree or wall,” he said.

Later Friday, Kirkpatrick’s campaign took issue with Specht’s comments as reported by The Associated Press, providing a web link to what spokesman D.B. Mitchell said appeared to be the template for the poster. The template included a description of “old and dirty paper with bullet holes.”

The state Republican Party displayed the poster Thursday on the party’s website (http://az.gop/ ) and posted it on Twitter.

“Afraid that Arizonans won’t ‘want’ her in the U.S. Senate if they learn more about her record and positions, Ann Kirkpatrick has been hiding out,” said state Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham said in an accompanying statement.

Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, said the GOP should apologize.

“In a state and country that know the toll of gun violence too well, there is no room for invoking the use of firearms in our politics,” they said.

Kirkpatrick is challenging Republican John McCain, who is seeking his sixth term and who won his party’s nomination in Tuesday’s Arizona primary. Kirkpatrick was unopposed.

McCain campaign spokeswoman Lorna Romero did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.