Rep. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida landlord requiring proof of vaccinations from tenants Anthrax was the COVID-19 of 2001 Governors brace for 2022 after year in pandemic spotlight MORE (R) on Wednesday warned Florida voters not to "monkey this up" by voting for his Democratic gubernatorial opponent Andrew Gillum, a comment that prompted fierce backlash.
“You know, this is a guy, although he’s much too liberal for Florida, I think he’s got huge problems with how he’s governed Tallahassee," DeSantis said of the Democratic mayor during an appearance on Fox News.
DeSantis, who won his GOP primary the previous night, called Gillum "an articulate spokesman for those far-left views" and a "charismatic candidate" after his upset Democratic primary victory on Tuesday night.
“I watched those Democrats debate and none of that is just my cup of tea, but he performed better than the other people there, so we gotta work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction,” DeSantis said.
He then launched an attack on Gillum, a candidate backed by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack trillion tax hike the opposite of 'good investment' Progressive groups call for Puerto Rico Fiscal Control Board to be abolished MORE (I-Vt.) who would be the first black governor of Florida if elected, accusing him of embracing a "socialist agenda."
“Let’s build off the success we’ve had on Gov. Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases bankrupting the state. That is not going to work," DeSantis said.
Uh Ron DeSantis just said FL shouldn't "monkey this up" by electing Andrew Gillum pic.twitter.com/nDPp3Hx7zc— Steve Morris (@stevemorris__) August 29, 2018
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo slammed DeSantis after the interview.
"It's disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles," Rizzo said in a statement.
Geoff Burgan, Gillum's campaign spokesman, told the Tallahassee Democrat that his campaign was letting Rizzo respond to DeSantis's comments.
"DeSantis's comments speak for themselves," he said.
DeSantis's campaign quickly pushed back on critics, saying it was "absurd" to claim that the Florida Republican was doing anything other than criticizing Gillum's agenda.
“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," DeSantis communications director Stephen Lawson said in a statement to The Hill.
"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," Lawson added.
In a follow-up segment on Fox, interviewer Sandra Smith denounced DeSantis's "monkey" remark, saying, "We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement." She noted that Gillum was set to appear on the network later in the day.
The Florida Republican's remarks came shortly after Gillum pulled off a stunning win in Florida's Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday night.
DeSantis, who was endorsed by President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE in the race, also won his party's primary to compete for the seat held by retiring Gov. Rick Scott (R).
Gillum said in an interview with CNN later on Wednesday morning that he believes Florida and its "rich diversity" are going to be looking for a governor who "is going to bring us together, not divide us. Not misogynist, not racist, not bigots."
Updated: 12:52 p.m.