Representative Ron DeSantis, Florida's Republican candidate for Governor, raised charges of racist whistling on Wednesday after he said in a television interview that voters should not "turn up" by choosing his opponent Andrew Gillum to be the first black governor of the state
Mr. Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, won the primaries in a turmoil on Tuesday night and gave the liberal wing of the Democratic Party a big victory.
In an interview with Fox News on the first day of the general election campaign, Mr. DeSantis, 39, who has the backing of President Trump, attacked Gillum's candidacy by painting him as a left-wing socialist.
"The last thing we need to do is thwart this by trying to chart a socialist agenda huge tax increases and bankruptcy of the state, "he said. "That will not work, it will not be good for Florida."
Terry Rizzo, leader of the Florida Democratic Party, exposed the comments of Mr. DeSantis. "It's disgusting that Ron DeSantis starts his general election campaign with racist dog-whistles," she wrote on Twitter .
Geoff Burgan, a spokesman for Mr. Gillum, described Mrs. Rizzo's tweet in response to comments
In a statement, Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Mr. DeSantis, rejected the idea that the candidate's comments had a racial undertone.
"Ron DeSantis obviously said that Florida did not make a wrong decision to support the socialist policy that Andrew Gillum represents," Lawson said. "To characterize it as something else is absurd." [ Sign up here for The Times Political Newsletter | Here's what's coming next on the main calendar ]
The anchor that led the interview with Mr. DeSantis, Sandra Smith later said in the daytime that Fox "does not approve of this language . "
Monkeys have long been used in racial slurs against blacks, and many took notice of this story. Sharon Austin, a professor of political science at the University of Florida, said she saw Mr. DeSantis's language as a not so racist dog whistle, much as many black politicians – including former President Barack Obama – faced during their campaigns
"Why would you use the term ape just?" She said to the comment. "If you know nothing about the history of racist language, racist images about animals and apes and black men – that's ignorance."
Critics Online said that Mr. DeSantis's description of Mr. Gillum, 39, as "articulated spokesman" for liberal views was another veiled racist message. The word "articulate" has a history in which white people praise certain black people in a way that carries a disturbing subtext of surprise about their intelligence.
In describing Mr. Gillum as an extreme leftist, Mr. DeSantis used a message similar to that of Mr. Trump, who wrote on Wednesday in a tweet that Mr. Gillum was a "failed socialist mayor" be.
The Democrats immediately took up the comments of Mr. DeSantis. "It took barely 12 hours for Ron DeSantis, Trump's yes-man, to make a racist statement about his opponent," Zach Hudson, a spokesman for the Democratic Political Action Committee, American Bridge 21st Century, said in a statement.
Mr. Gillum's victory on Tuesday was fueled by support from Senator Bernie Sanders and financial support from Tom Steyer, George Soros and Collective PAC, a group dedicated to the choice of African-Americans. He supports universal health care, legalises marijuana and the abolition of immigration and customs authorities – as well as the impeachment of Mr Trump.
Mr. DeSantis' own victory signaled the influence of Mr. Trump's support for the Republican races. DeSantis caught the attention of the conservatives last year by appearing on television in Fox News to defend the president, who responded with his own praise. Mr. Trump gave Mr. DeSantis a full throne confirmation in June.
Mr. DeSantis and Gillum will be in the public for more than two months before voters go to the polls in November.
"It's going to be a long and probably pretty ugly campaign," Dr. Austin.