Right-wing polemicist Ann Coulter, who once called Arabs towel heads, has outraged American political class by calling a Presidential candidate a faggot.

Speaking at the influential Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on Friday, the publicity-seeking Ms Coulter said:

“I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. But it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot.’”

The rehab comment was a reference to TV star Isaiah Washington, who sought therapy after the media storm over his comments on the set of Grey’s Anatomy.

Washington called co-star TR Knight a faggot during an argument, which led Knight to come out of the closet.

By yesterday, potential Republican candidates for President were lining up to condemn Ms Coulter for lowering the tone of political debate.

The Conservative Political Action Conference was attended by many of the 2008 Republican Presidential candidates.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee attended, as did Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr Cheney’s daughter Mary, a lesbian, is due to give birth to her first child this spring.

Democrats and gay rights activists were also unhappy.

“To interject this word into American political discourse is a vile and disgusting way to sink the debate to a new, all-time low,” said Joe Solomonese of the gay lobby group Human Rights Campaign.

“Make no doubt about it, these remarks go directly against what our Founding Fathers intended and have no place on the schoolyard, much less our country’s political arena.”

Ms Coulter has used homophobic language to smear Democrats in the past.

Last year she called former President Bill Clinton as a “latent homosexual” and on a TV show called his former Vice President Al Gore a “total fag.”

The politician who was the target of her latest outburst, John Edwards, responded to her comments on his website.

The Democratic candidate for Vice President in 2004 said:

“In America, we strive for equality and embrace diversity.

“The kind of hateful language she used has no place in political debate or our society at large.”

Ms Coulter, 45, has made a career out of controversty.

She has been sacked from various TV jobs for insulting comments, but remains a regular on radio and TV talk shows.

Her comments just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York in 2001 were typical of her polemical style:

“We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”