Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam rejected mounting calls for his resignation Saturday and, in a sharp reversal, said he does not believe he in fact appears in a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page as he initially thought.
"I am not the person in that photo," Northam said at an afternoon news conference.
He apologized, however, for the photos being on a page with his name on it.
"I am asking for the opportunity to earn your forgiveness," the governor said, adding, "I am far from perfect and I can always strive to do more."
His remarks came in the face of widespread demands throughout the state Democratic party and beyond for him to step down.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Terry McAuliffe, Northam's Democratic predecessor as governor, a half-dozen Democratic presidential hopefuls, the NAACP, Planned Parenthood and state Democratic lawmakers called on the governor to resign.
Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both former Virginia governors, issued a statement along with U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., saying that they called Northam after the press conference to tell him that they don't believe he can effectively continue to serve as governor.
"The events of the past 24 hours have inflicted immense pain," the trio said.
The Democratic Governors Association also called for him to step down while Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Virginians deserve better from their leaders and that the governor "has lost their trust and his ability to governor."
The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the newspaper in the state capital, said in an editorial that it was time for Northam to go.
President Donald Trump sent out a tweet Saturday nightsaying that Northam's actions were "Unforgivable!"
Northam's statement to the press at the executive mansion in Richmond followed his apology on Friday in which he said he was one of two people in the photos that shows a man in blackface and another in full Ku Klux Klan regalia, including a hood and robe. The photo appeared in the 1984 yearbook for Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Calls for him to step down erupted almost immediately after The Washington Post published a story on the photo, which was first discovered Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics.
In a written statement Friday, the governor had said, "I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now." He also vowed to push forward and work to mend the damage he said he had caused.
In defending himself on Saturday, Northam said that he did not buy a copy of the yearbook in 1984, the year he graduated, and had never seen the page with the offensive material until Friday.
Northam said that when he saw the yearbook, and noted that it was in fact his page, he thought "the most likely explanation is that it was indeed me."
Later, he said, he "reflected with my family and classmates and affirmed that I am not the person in that photo." "I recognize that many people will find this difficult to believe," he told reporters.
Northam, who says he was 25 years old at the time, also denied that he attended the party where the photo was taken.
"The reason I so vividly don't remember is because it didn't happen," he said.
The governor suggested that the photo may have been placed on his page by mistake, noting that there are numerous photos of people in blackface on other pages in the yearbook.