WASHINGTON -- Democrats on Friday disowned a campaign email that called a Republican Iraq War veteran who's seeking to challenge Rep. Tim Bishop a "coward" for not taking a stand on a controversial House GOP federal budget proposal.

The email sent by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Wednesday also superimposed the face of the veteran, state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), on a picture of the Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz."

Both Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), the DCCC chairman, and Bishop (D-Southampton) rejected the email after Zeldin condemned it on Fox News as a "shameful attack."

"Rep. Israel was not shown the comments used to describe Iraq War veteran Lee Zeldin before they were sent out by DCCC staffers. He not only disagrees with these comments, but strongly condemns them," said his aide Samantha Slater.

"Bishop would not have used those words nor does he approve of them," said his campaign manager Keith Davies. He said Bishop has "enormous respect and gratitude" for Zeldin's military service.

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Zeldin said Israel and Bishop's response was appropriate.

"I think it's good they took this step," Zeldin said. Such language under the DCCC banner "really shouldn't have any place in politics, where there are character attacks before a debate on substantive issues."

He added, "I look forward to moving on with a substantive debate on the best path forward for this country."

Zeldin, an Army Reserve major, deployed as a military lawyer to Iraq in 2006 with the 82nd Airborne Division. He faces Ronkonkoma lawyer George Demos in a GOP primary next month.