Thursday, August 30, 2018
Racism immediately became an issue in the Florida governor’s race Wednesday as both nominees made predictions: The Democrat said voters aren’t looking for a misogynist, racist or bigot, while the Republican said voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” by choosing his African-American opponent.
Only hours after their primary election victories, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis made clear the high-profile race in the nation’s largest political battleground state was going to be nasty. Gillum, a far-left Democrat seeking to become the state’s first black governor, and DeSantis, a Trump-endorsed Republican, are political opposites, both seeking to gin up turnout among the party’s most ardent supporters.
Asked if he’s afraid of President Donald Trump’s support for DeSantis, Gillum told CNN that his race is about uniting the state and that voters want someone is who “not misogynist, not racist, not bigots.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, he added: “I think the Florida electorate is going to reject the politics of division. ... We’re going to try to compel and appeal to the higher values of the people of the state of Florida.”
Meanwhile, on Fox News, DeSantis called Gillum an “articulate” candidate, but said “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 this state. That is not going to work. It’s not going to be good for Florida.”
Democrats immediately decried DeSantis’ comment as racist.
“That was more than a dog-whistle,” said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat. “That was absolutely a racist, disgusting statement. I don’t think there’s any other way to interpret it.”
But the DeSantis campaign clarified that his comments were directed at Gillum’s policies, not the candidate himself. “To characterize it as anything else is absurd,” his spokesman, Stephen Lawson, said.
Gillum, in his AP interview, called the comment a form of “gutter politics” that he said comes from the “Trump school” of trying to “fire up the base.”
The exchange between the two campaigns came less than a day after a primary outcome that appeared unthinkable a few months ago. DeSantis came from behind in the GOP primary with the help of Trump to beat Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who campaigned longer, raised more money and built party establishment support.
Gillum upset a field of five that included former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who was hoping to become the state’s first female governor and win the office once held by her father, Bob Graham. Gillum spent the least of the major candidates but won the hearts of those who consider themselves progressives, and got a late boost from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.