Republican candidate Rep. Ron DeSantis is under fire Wednesday for using the phrase “monkey this up” in referring to his Florida gubernatorial race against Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee and a black man.
“The last thing we need is to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” he said on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.”
Mr. DeSantis criticized his opponent for being too liberal for Florida but said Mr. Gillum is a charismatic politician and “articulate spokesman” for those on the far-left.
“I watched those Democratic debates. None of it was my cup of tea, but, I mean, he performed better than the other people there,” he said.
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo called Mr. DeSantis’ comments “disgusting” and accused him of diving into the race with “racist dog whistles.”
Former Senate candidate and conservative pundit Bishop E.W. Jackson defended Mr. DeSantis, accusing the Democrats of playing “the race card” while being “the most pernicious racists.”
“If that comment had been made with a white socialist candidate, no one would have given it a second thought,” he said in a statement. “Socialists want to monkey around with our economy through central planning, burdensome regulations and constant government intervention rather than allowing the free market to take its course.
“The only mistake Ron DeSantis made is to not understand how obsessed the left is with race,” Mr. Jackson said. “Because DeSantis’ opponent is black, the left will definitely accuse him of racism. The mainstream media will lead the way.”
Mr. DeSantis, who secured the Republican nomination Tuesday night, is backed by President Trump.
Mr. Gillum beat out his establishment Democrat opponents to become the state’s first black gubernatorial nominee.
“America’s Newsroom” host Sandra Smith addressed the growing backlash on air after Mr. DeSantis’ interview.
“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses,” Stephen Lawson, the DeSantis campaign’s communications director, said in a statement to Fox News. “To characterize it as anything else is absurd.”
Ms. Smith distanced the show from Mr. DeSantis’ comments and said: “We do not condone this language.”