Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida, did not shy away from calling out the racist elements supporting his Republican opponent’s campaign at a debate on Wednesday.
Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee and the first black major-party candidate for governor in Florida, blasted his opponent, former Rep. Ron DeSantis:
Well, let me first say my grandmother used to say, “A hit dog will holler.” And it hollered through this room. Mr. DeSantis has spoken. First of all, he’s got neo-Nazis helping him out in the state. He has spoken at racist conferences. He’s accepted a contribution and would not return it from someone who referred to the former president of the United States as a Muslim n-i-g-g-e-r. When asked to return that money, he said no. He’s using that money to now fund negative ads.
Now, I’m not calling Mr. Desantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.
It is very rare for a politician to call his opponent a racist, or directly suggest that his opponent is a racist.
But what Gillum said is true. DeSantis did talk at a conference held by a man with white nationalist views. DeSantis did take money from someone who called President Barack Obama a racist slur (although he condemned the comments and said he will no longer take money from the contributor). He has been reportedly supported by a white supremacist group from Idaho through racist robocalls (which the DeSantis campaign, for its part, called “appalling and disgusting”).
And the first controversy of the campaign came when DeSantis said voters shouldn’t “monkey this [election] up” with a vote for Gillum, though DeSantis denied any racial intent and claimed he was just using a common phrase.
Much of DeSantis’s criticisms against Gillum, meanwhile, focused on an FBI inquiry that, among other things, reportedly found that the Democrat accepted tickets for the Broadway musical Hamilton from an undercover FBI agent in 2016 while mayor of Tallahassee — which DeSantis’s campaign said makes it “abundantly clear that Andrew Gillum has repeatedly lied about taking free gifts and trips from lobbyists.”
Gillum has denied the accusations, saying he obtained the Broadway tickets from his brother.
The Florida governor’s race is considered to be close, although the RealClearPolitics average of polls shows that Gillum is up by nearly 6 points.
For more on the Florida governor’s race, read Vox’s explainer.