By Gina Martinez
Updated: August 29, 2018 4:56 PM ET

Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis is being criticized after saying that his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, would “monkey this up.” If elected, Gillum would be Florida’s first black governor.

Ron DeSantis appeared on Fox News Channel’s America’s Newsroom Wednesday morning following Gillum’s unexpected primary victory. He called the Tallahasee mayor charismatic, but said he is too far to the left. Gillum ran on several progressive policies, including gun reform, LGBTQ rights and universal healthcare.

“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’s not going to work, that’s not going to be good for Florida.” he added.

Some observers saw DeSantis’ use of the term “monkey this up” as a racist insult.

“It’s disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles,” said Terrie Rizzo, head of the Florida Democratic Party.

Others also blasted DeSantis for his word choice:

DeSantis spokesperson Dave Vasquez told NBC News that the term was not meant to be racist, and that “monkeying” refers to doing something incorrectly.

“At the end of the day it was nothing more than the expression he was using in order to make a point that something was messed up or things weren’t done right,” he said.

America’s Newsroom host Sandra Smith released a statement in response to the backlash. Smith said her show does not condone the language used and wanted viewers to be aware that DeSantis has since clarified his statement.

Gillum himself responded on Fox’s Shephard Smith Reporting Wednesday afternoon, saying “it’s very clear that Mr. DeSantis is taking a page directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump, but I think he’s got another thing coming to him if he thinks that in today’s day in age Florida voters are going to respond to that level of derision and division — they’re sick of it.”

“What we’re trying to offer in this race is a north star for where we want to go as a state,” he continued.

President Donald Trump tweeted his support for DeSantis on Monday.

 

Write to Gina Martinez at gina.martinez@timeinc.com.

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