Only hours after the primary election in Florida governor’s race Wednesday, racism became the central issue. Republican Senate nominee Ron DeSantis called his African-American opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, an “articulate” candidate and said “the last thing we need to do is to monkey this up.”

Democrats immediately slammed DeSantis’ comment as racist. “That was more than a dog-whistle,” said Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat. “That was absolutely a racist, disgusting statement. I don’t think there’s any other way to interpret it.”

DeSantis’ office dismissed claims that his remarks had a racial dimension as “absurd” and were directed at Gillum’s policies.

“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses,” spokesman Stephen Lawson said in a statement. “To characterize it as anything else is absurd.”

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Gillum, a Bernie Sanders-backed progressive candidate who won Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, accused DeSantis in an Interview with Fox News later on Tuesday of “taking a page directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump.”

Gillum, who was the only non-millionaire candidate in the race, said in his remarks to supporters on election night that he and supporters would seek to counter the “dark days that we’ve been under coming out of Washington.”

DeSantis won his primary with the backing of President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, Trump weighed in on Twitter, saying that not only did DeSantis win but that “his opponent in November is his biggest dream.” He called Gillum a “failed socialist mayor” who has “allowed crime and many other problems to flourish in the city.”

Gillum brushed off Trump’s tweet, saying, “I’m a Democrat, but I have to tell you that not much what Donald Trump says is actually based in fact. The president does not scare me. If he’s going to tweet at me he should @ me. And he ought to know he should be prepared to receive a response when appropriate.”

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