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ORLANDO, Fla. — Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor in Florida, faced a backlash on Wednesday for saying in a television interview that his state should not “monkey this up” by electing his Democratic rival Andrew Gillum, who is African-American.

DeSantis made the comment in an interview on Fox News when speaking about progressive Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who won in an upset on Tuesday night.

“You know, he is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views and he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis 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 the state. That is not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”

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Terrie Rizzo, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, called the remark “disgusting.”

“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” she said.

Gillum, who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders and George Soros, is vying to become the state’s first black governor. DeSantis, who represents the state’s 7th congressional district, was endorsed by President Donald Trump.

Historians have noted that using monkey and ape when referring to African Americans has racist origins, but a spokesperson for DeSantis told NBC News it had nothing to do with race.

Image: Andrew Gillum speaks at the DNC
Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee and Democratic nominee for governor, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 27, 2016.Paul Sancya / AP, file

DeSantis communications director said, “Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd. Florida’s economy has been on the move for the last eight years and the last thing we need is a far-left democrat trying to stop our success.”

Asked for comment on DeSantis’ remarks, Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan said, “As we say in Tallahassee, bless his heart.”

Civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson responded to DeSantis’ remarks with a one-word tweet:

Caley Cronin, a spokeswoman for Fox News, told NBC News that the network did not approve of DeSantis’ comments and read on his statement about his remarks.

“We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement,” Smith said.

Gillum will appear on Fox News at 3 p.m. ET. He will also be on MSNBC’s “Meet The Press Daily” with Chuck Todd at 5 p.m. ET

Dartunorro Clark reported from New York City and Ali Vitali reported from Orlando.

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