Key Points:

National MP Lockwood Smith's racially sensitive comments about Asians and Pacific Islanders were used by Prime Minister Helen Clark and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters on the campaign trail yesterday.

Dr Smith provided his political opponents with ammunition when on Tuesday in Blenheim he said Asians had small hands that made them better at picking fruit and that some Pacific workers needed to be taught to use toilets and showers.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said she was deeply offended and had Dr Smith not apologised it would have hurt chances of any post-election support arrangement with her party.

Yesterday Helen Clark was in South Auckland when she launched into Dr Smith.

On Wednesday she had called the remarks daft and absurd but yesterday she upped the ante, saying Dr Smith had said terrible and unspeakable things about Pacific Islanders. "I think he said what he was really thinking."

There was a large Pacific Island contingent in the audience.

In Auckland, Mr Peters accused Dr Smith of racism during a speech to a Pacific Economic Transformation Conference in Auckland. "When it comes to immigration - National's racist undertones are clear," he said.

"Let me ask this audience how insulted do you feel when a senior National Party MP says that Pacific peoples don't know how to shower or use the bathroom? That is the ultimate insult and these politicians want to be the Government."

Dr Smith's gaffe left National leader John Key fielding questions about potentially racist comments while out on the campaign trail in New Plymouth on Wednesday.

Dr Smith said he regretted causing any offence but his comments were taken out of context.

Mr Key said the comments could be offensive "and I think it's totally appropriate to apologise".