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In Utah for a fundraiser Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. defended a tweet comparing Syrian refugees to Skittles and touted his father as a "disrupter" who will keep the best interests of average Americans at heart.

The oldest son of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gave a series of interviews and met with state lawmakers, couching his visit as fulfilling a promise he made to friends. He didn't want to make it appear as if his father is worried about losing one of the most conservative states in the nation, particularly as recent polls have shown him holding a strong advantage over Democrat Hillary Clinton and a handful of third-party candidates.

Still, Trump has acknowledged having a problem with Mormon voters who have viewed him skeptically, in part based on his hard-line position on immigration and refugees.

Trump Jr. created a stir this week by posting an image on Twitter with a message saying: "If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you three would kill you, would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem."

He has been criticized for using an overly simplified metaphor that reduced some of the most vulnerable people in the world to candy.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said: "To compare humans to pieces of candy is more of the rhetoric that we hear from the Trump campaign and less, I think, of what we want to hear as Americans."

Trump Jr. declined an interview request from The Salt Lake Tribune.

In an interview with KUTV, Trump Jr. said his tweet has been blown out of proportion, but he didn't back away from the campaign's stance that there should be more rigorous vetting of refugees, and if that can't take place, then they shouldn't be allowed to come to the United States.

"I'm a father of five kids. I owe that to my kids. I want to make sure they are safe," he said. "The notion of putting America first shouldn't be foreign."

Clinton, as well as the LDS Church and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, have been more open to accepting refugees, believing the vetting system is adequate.

Trump Jr. has become friends with Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and agreed to stop by the state Capitol where the Skittles tweet became a joke. State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, offered Trump Jr. some of the multicolored candies and he "politely declined."

Trump Jr. didn't bring up the episode when he met with House Republicans, instead telling a story from the Republican National Convention about an encounter shortly after he delivered his prime-time speech.

"A man runs out of the shadows pretending to tackle me," Trump Jr. said. "That man was Speaker Hughes. What Speaker Hughes did not realize was that the Secret Service was about to shoot him before I was like 'Oh Greg, how are you?' "

Trump Jr. expressed his love of Utah, a place where he has brought his family to fish, ski and hunt, and he made a pitch that his brash father has more in common with Utahns than many may realize.

"Family is something that means a lot to us," he said. "My father is all about work ethic, and I think so much about what he stands for and what he's done has really resonated well with the people I know here."

His father remains an unpopular figure in Utah, though not as unpopular as Clinton. Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mia Love say they are not prepared to vote for Trump and are keeping their options open. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who now lives in Utah, and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox have said they are likely to vote for a third-party candidate or write in a name.

Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, made a campaign stop Sept. 1, participating in a policy forum sponsored by Lee before headlining a fundraiser hosted by real estate investor Scott Keller.

Keller was also the sponsor of Trump Jr.'s fundraiser in Bountiful on Wednesday evening.

Earlier in the race, his father told Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans that he'd return to Utah before Election Day, but Trump Jr. told KUTV that is unlikely at this stage.

"At this point it probably doesn't make much sense," he said.

Before GOP state lawmakers, Trump Jr. said: "It is a privilege to go around the country talking to real Americans who built this great nation, who have been left behind oftentimes by politicians in D.C. who haven't had their best interest at heart. ... We want to change that and try to put someone in there who will be a disrupter, and that is my father."

Corroon countered that message by describing Trump as a dangerous question mark, while Clinton would be a steady presence in the White House.

"With Hillary Clinton you're going to get stability," he said. "You're not going to have a who-knows-what's-going-to-happen come January 20 if Donald Trump gets elected."

Twitter: @mattcanham

—Robert Gehrke contributed to this article.