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MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) – Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis’ win in the primary election has been upstaged by a statement he made which many view as insensitive and racist.
During an interview on Fox and Friends the day after the election, DeSantis was asked about his opponent Andrew Gillum’s handling of the economy.
“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,” said DeSantis.
Democratic groups accused DeSantis of using racist dog whistles to rally white nationalists to the polls.
DeSantis, who received support from President Donald Trump before and after the election, said calls that he is racist are absurd.
“It has zero to do with race,” he said. “It has to do with whether we want Florida…left wing policies that will devastate our state.”
His campaign put out a statement saying, “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.”
Thursday morning, a coalition of South Florida pastors came together to declare the statements not only racist but disturbing.
“These comments were incredibly disturbing and we are disappointed not only in DeSantis’ remarks but in his refusal to simply apologize for them. As African-American faith leaders, we are very concerned about the moral direction of this state and this country,” said Rev. Carl Johnson, pastor of 93rd Street Community Baptist Church.
“We as clergy believe that politics is not only a political thing but it’s a moral thing and an honorable thing. What the words that came out of Mr. DeSantis mouth were not moral and were not honorable,” he added.
Apology or not Gillum and his supporters have a bigger fight ahead of them.
“The issues in our state are enough to run on. Stand your ground is enough, the shootings that are happening in our state are enough, education being 48 out of 50 is enough. We call for all candidates to run on the issues to run on the merits of their convictions,” said Rev. Wendell Paris with the Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church.
When asked about the comment and denial that it had racist overtones, Gillum said he was not going to take the bait.
“I’m not going to get down in the gutter with DeSantis and Trump. There’s enough of that going on,” said Gillum.
He added that he knows exactly what DeSantis meant.
“I understand the signal he wanted to send but the truth is I think there are more of us out there who are common and decent who frankly want to be over the politics of division,” he said.
Gillum predicts Trump’s style of campaigning won’t work in Florida.
“I think Donald Trump is going to get a very hard reality check along with Ron DeSantis when on Nov 6, Florida voters act in strong form to reject that brand of politics and say that we deserve and are going to strive for better in Florida,” Gillum said.
Gillum upset a field of five that included former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who was hoping to become the state’s first female governor. Gillum spent the least of the major candidates but won the hearts of those who consider themselves progressives and got a late boost from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
(©2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to this report.)