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DeSantis says Florida voters would ‘monkey this up’ if they elect Gillum as governor

By John Wagner, For The Washington Post, On 29 August 2018, Read Original
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Rep. Ron DeSantis, the newly christened Republican gubernatorial candidate in Florida, said Wednesday that voters would “monkey this up” if they elect his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, who would be the state’s first African American governor.

During an interview on Fox News, DeSantis praised Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, as “an articulate spokesman” for those holding “far-left views,” but warned he would be damaging to the state.

“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,” DeSantis said. “That is not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”

A Fox News Channel host later said on air that the network did not condone DeSantis’s language. In an interview on the network Wednesday afternoon, Gillum suggested that DeSantis was following President Trump’s example.

“Yeah, that part wasn’t lost on me,” Gillum said when asked about DeSantis’s remarks. “It’s very clear that Mr. DeSantis is taking a page directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump.”

“If he thinks that in today’s day and age Florida voters are going to respond to that level of division and derision, they’re sick of it,” he added.

Asked about DeSantis’s comments by reporters following an event on drug-free communities at the White House, Trump said he “didn’t hear” the Florida Republican’s remarks but continued to praise him, calling him “extraordinary.”

“He’s an extreme talent,” Trump said.

DeSantis’s comments brought a swift rebuke from Terrie Rizzo, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, who said they were racially tinged. The Democratic Governors Association and other political groups also levied criticism.

“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” Rizzo wrote on Twitter.

Terrie Rizzo@TerrieRizzo

It's disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles. 

Stephen Lawson, a DeSantis spokesman, later said that such characterizations were “absurd.”

“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses,” Lawson said. “To characterize it as anything else is absurd.”

Gillum was a surprise winner in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. He has embraced liberal policies, such as a “Medicare-for-all” health-care system, but he has not identified as a socialist. He has the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), among other liberal figures nationally.

DeSantis prevailed in the GOP primary with the help of an endorsement from Trump.

In a tweet later Wednesday, former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who is promoting a critical tell-all book about the president, sought to draw attention to that connection.

“Let’s not forget that this is the candidate that #45 endorsed,” she wrote, referring to Trump being the 45th president. She added: “#BirdsOfaFeather.”

DeSantis’s comments were also criticized by the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

“Representative DeSantis owes all Floridians an apology,” the group’s communications director, Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, said in a statement. “We are increasingly weary of denouncing political candidates embracing the racist and xenophobic tone set by Donald Trump’s administration.”

During his Fox interview, DeSantis said Gillum had outperformed other Democrats in the primary.

“This is a guy who, although he’s much too liberal for Florida — I think he’s got huge problems with how he’s governed Tallahassee — you know he is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views, and he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis said.

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

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