Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (D) during a fiery Wednesday night debate said he would not call his GOP opponent Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisUniversity of Florida researchers pressured to destroy COVID-19 data, told not to criticize DeSantis: report More voters would pick Trump over Biden if election were held today: poll 17 Democratic state AGs back challenge to Florida voting limits MORE a racist, but "the racists believe he's a racist."
"My grandmother used to say a hit dog will holler and it hollered through this room," Gillum said during a discussion about ongoing allegations of racism against DeSantis. "He's got neo-Nazis helping out through this state."
Gillum would be the state's first black governor and his opponents include neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
"I'm not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist," Gillum added. "I'm simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist."
There have been two racist robocalls targeting Gillum in Florida during his campaign run, one of which was paid for by a white supremacist organization.
The most recent robocall, which went out this week, used minstrel-style dialect to imitate Gillum as monkeys screeched in the background.
"I is the negro Andrew Gillum and I'll be askin’ you to make me governor of this here state of Florida," a man impersonating Gillum says. It is not clear who paid for the robocall.
DeSantis during the debate shot down a question about his relationship with a writer who has said the country's "only serious race war" is against whites and has espoused anti-Islam views.
"How the hell am I supposed to know every statement that somebody makes?" DeSantis said.
"I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness," he said. "I’m not going to let the media smear me."
Referring to the conferences he attended that founded by the writer, David Horowitz, he said "it was not a racial conference."
"I’m not going to sit here and take this nonsense from a guy like Andrew Gillum who always plays the victim," he added.
DeSantis's campaign has been dogged by allegations of racism, with Gillum's campaign and supporters accusing him of racist dog whistles on more than one occasion.
DeSantis on the first day of his campaign warned Florida voters not to "monkey this up" by voting for Gillum, a comment that was widely denounced as racist. DeSantis denied those allegations, saying it was a common phrase.
Recent polls have shown Gillum leading DeSantis by a narrow margin.
-Max Greenwood contributed reporting to this report which was updated at 9:07 p.m.