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Congressman Ron DeSantis, the morning after winning Florida’s Republican gubernatorial primary, told Fox News that voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” by electing his opponent, Andrew Gillum, who is African-American. “The last thing we need to do is monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” DeSantis said in an interview this morning with anchor Sandra Smith. (See the full video below — the comment in question comes at the 3:30 mark.)

Gillum, whose campaign was backed by Bernie Sanders and mocked by President Donald Trump, opted not to pounce on the comments, at least initially. But other critics, including some Republicans, blasted the comment as a barely concealed attempt to stoke racism in the Republican base.
The Florida Democratic Party did not hesitate. “Its disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” FDP Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a press release.

A DeSantis campaign spokesperson called the charges “absurd.” In a statement provided to multiple media outlets, he offered a clarification. “Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses,” the statement said.

Smith later pointed to the candidates statement on air and said Fox News “does not condone this language and wanted to make viewers aware” of the DeSantis clarification.

The Florida governors race is one of several key battles in the mid-term elections, which are going to be a crucial test for the presidency of Donald Trump and the state of the Republican party.