Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis said Wednesday morning that Florida shouldn't "monkey this up" by electing Democrat Andrew Gillum in November.
Gillum is Florida's first black nominee for governor.
Speaking on Fox News, DeSantis also called Gillum an "articulate spokesman" for the far-left.
There is a long history of black Americans being referred to as "monkeys" as a racial slur. "Articulate" is also a common dog whistle that preys on negative stereotypes that black people do not speak well.
DeSantis spokesman Stephen Lawson said that was not what the Republican nominee intended to imply.
"Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses," Lawson said. "To characterize it as anything else is absurd. Florida's economy has been on the move for the last eight years and the last thing we need is a far-left democrat trying to stop our success."
Democrats immediately criticized DeSantis' remarks.
"On the first day of the general election, Ron DeSantis showed Floridians who he really is," said Democratic Governors Association spokesman David Turner said. "Resorting to dog whistle politics within hours of winning the GOP nomination shows a desperate candidate who will stoop to new lows in order to court and give voice to fringe elements of society. Floridians want a leader who will bring them together; Ron DeSantis has shown that he would only divide Florida."
Gillum's campaign declined to comment, referring reporters to the Fl0rida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, who called DeSantis' comments "disgusting."
UPDATE: Fox News' America's Newsroom host later addressed DeSantis' comments, noting that the station does "not condone this language." Here's what she said:
"A little while ago, we had Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor in Florida on for an interview to discuss the Florida election. During the interview, he made what some are calling an inappropriate comment about his democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum.
DeSantis has since clarified his comment in a statement, saying, 'Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum Espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd. Florida's economy has been on the move for the last eight years and the last thing we need is a far-left democrat trying to stop our success.'
We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement. Also, Mayor Gillum will be on with Shepard Smith today at 3PM."
Here are DeSantis' full comments:
"Florida elections are always competitive. And this is a guy who, although he's much too liberal for Florida, I think he's got a huge problems with how he's governed Tallahassee. You know, he is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. He's a charismatic candidate. And you know I watched those Democrat debates, none of that was my cup of tea, but I mean he performed better than the other people there, so we've got to work hard to make sure we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let's build off the success we've had under Governor Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases, and bankrupting the state. That is not gonna work, that's not gonna be good for Florida. So, I'm going to fight for what I believe in because I think I'm the guy who can really lead Florida in a good direction."