DeSantis criticized for saying Florida shouldn't 'monkey this up' during Gillum discussion

Gillum says he's not 'getting into the gutter' with Republican nominee

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis is being criticized for using the word "monkey" in a live television interview Wednesday while discussing Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum.

DeSantis appeared on Fox News the morning after Florida's primary election and called Gillum "much too liberal for Florida."

When asked how he plans to beat Gillum, DeSantis made a remark that didn't sit well with Florida's top Democrat.

"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.

Although he didn't mention Gillum by name, DeSantis was referring to how he perceives Gillum's policies.

Gillum appeared on Fox News a few hours later, saying he won't be "getting into the gutter" with DeSantis.

"It's very clear that Mr. DeSantis is taking a page directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump," Andrew Gillum said. "Well, in the handbook of Donald Trump, they no longer do full whistle calls. They do full bullhorns."

Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo took to Twitter to condemn DeSantis' comment.

"It's disgusting that Ron DeSantis is launching his general election campaign with racist dog whistles," Rizzo said in a tweet that included a clip of the interview.

President Donald Trump endorsed DeSantis in the governor's race, helping the conservative congressman defeat Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the Republican nomination.

"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," Stephen Lawson, communications director for the DeSantis campaign, said in response to the backlash. "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."

Gillum made history by becoming the first black gubernatorial nominee in Florida history.