Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis, the GOP nominee for governor, clarified comments he made earlier Wednesday in which he warned voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for his Democratic opponent, who is black.
“We've got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction, let’s build off the success we’ve had with Governor [Rick] Scott,” DeSantis, fresh off his Republican primary victory, said on Fox News' "America’s Newsroom” earlier in the day.
“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.”
The remark drew instant fire from Democrats, who accused him of using “racist dog whistles,” considering the Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum is black.
“It's disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said.
Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan told The Tallahassee Democrat that the campaign was leaving it to the party to respond.
"DeSantis' comments speak for themselves," Burgan said.
But DeSantis’ office dismissed claims that his remarks had a racial dimension as “absurd.”
“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses,” spokesman Stephen Lawson said in a statement. “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,” the statement said.
Gillum, a Bernie Sanders-backed Tallahassee mayor, pulled off a major upset in defeating a half a dozen rivals, including former Rep. Gwen Graham, in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
DeSantis and Gillum will face each other in November's general election. If he triumphs, Gillum would be the state's first black governor.
"I'm truly honored to represent people across the state as the Democratic nominee -- and I promise to stand up for everyday Floridians and the issues that matter most," Gillum tweeted after his win.
Fox News’ Alex Pappas contributed to this report.