Gillum says he’s ‘not getting into the gutter’ on DeSantis’ ‘monkey’ comment

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum celebrates with supporters after nomination win

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum celebrates in the Florida capital with supporters after winning the Democratic nomination for governor on Aug. 29, 2018.
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Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum celebrates in the Florida capital with supporters after winning the Democratic nomination for governor on Aug. 29, 2018.

Hours after Ron DeSantis, the Trump-supported GOP nominee for Florida governor, said he hoped the state’s voters would not “monkey this up” by electing his opponent, who is black, the Democratic nominee said he won’t be “getting into the gutter” with DeSantis.

“That part wasn’t lost on me. It’s very clear that Mr. DeSantis is taking a page directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump,” Andrew Gillum said on Fox News on Wednesday afternoon, hours after DeSantis made the monkey comment on the same cable news network. “He thinks that in today’s day and age Florida’s voters are going to respond to that level of division. But I think he’s got another thing coming to him.”

After DeSantis made the comment Wednesday morning, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo tweeted: “It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles.”

Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, was pressed by Fox News host Shepard Smith to say if he thought DeSantis’ comments were explicitly racist. Gillum did not directly answer that they were, but insinuated it.

Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee to become Florida’s next governor, has been accused of using a “racist dog whistle” during a TV interview after saying that voters would “monkey this up” by electing his liberal African-American opponent.

“Well, in the handbook of Donald Trump they no longer do full whistle calls, they do full bullhorns,” Gillum said. “I’m not going to go down in the gutter.”

Fox News distanced itself from DeSantis’ comment, made about 12 hours after Gillum pulled off a historic upset to become Florida’s first black major-party gubernatorial nominee. Sandra Smith, the Fox host who conducted the interview with DeSantis, later said that the station does not condone his choice of words.

“During the interview, he made what some are calling an inappropriate comment about his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum,” Smith said. “We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement.”

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Stephen Lawson, communications director for the DeSantis campaign, said it was “absurd” to call DeSantis’ comments racist.

“He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis said of Gillum on Wednesday morning. “I watched those Democratic debates. None of that is my cup of tea, but he performed better than the other people there so 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 Gov. [Rick] Scott. 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. That’s not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”

DeSantis made the comment at 9:36 a.m. while appearing on Fox News following his victory in the Republican primary. Gillum won the Democratic primary after being endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist.

DeSantis built his successful primary campaign by appearing on Fox News dozens of times, eventually drawing the crucial support of President Donald Trump. He is a veteran of the cable news cycle, frequently using his airtime to stump for conservative red-meat issues like ending special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

Gillum also told Fox News he has no intention of moving further to the center after winning the primary as the most liberal candidate on the ballot. He told Smith that he plans to raise the state’s corporate tax rate from 5.5 to 7 percent to raise money to pay for higher teacher salaries and expanded healthcare programs.

“I’m going to stay true, I’m going to stay true to my values,” Gillum said. “I don’t think it is a blue or red or purple issue.”

He also said he has no intention of attacking DeSantis personally.

“Listen, I’ve been elected for 15 years, I don’t mind taking a punch and I can deliver one myself,” Gillum said. But Floridians are “sick of the gutter politics, they’re sick of this atmosphere of division.”

Alex Daugherty, 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty