(UPDATE) The fierce showdown between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum for governor has begun, with a handful of current and former Democratic members from Congress blasting DeSantis in a conference call early Wednesday as a conservative Republican more focused on ideology that governing – and also suggested he used a “racist dog whistle” against his African-American opponent.
“Ron DeSantis is an ideologue first,” said Boca Raton Representative Ted Deutch. “That may work as a member of the Freedom Caucus, but it certainly won’t work as governor of Florida.”
DeSantis is a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative and libertarian members of Congress that was formed in 2015 and is considered the most hardline in the House.
Palm Beach Rep. Lois Frankel said that DeSantis is “against everything,” citing his opposition in Congress to hurricane relief, funding to alleviate Florida’s citrus industry, and his votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats nationally and in Florida have been pushing hard on the issue of health care in congressional races, and they indicated today that they will continue to press that in the gubernatorial race.
Former Treasure Coast Rep. Patrick Murphy joined DeSantis as part of the 2012 class of new members in Congress. Murphy had harsh words for his former colleague, calling him “one of the most arrogant members of Congress that we have – and that’s saying something.”
“He doesn’t care about health care, he doesn’t care about the environment,” Murphy charged. “He cares about big business and himself and his ego.” charged Murphy.
“He ran on a blank slate and won on the strength of (Donald) Trump’s endorsement,” said Miami-Dade Democrat Frederica Wilson. “DeSantis can’t even be bothered to tell us how he would improve Floridian’s lives.”
DeSantis notably did not talk much about the issues in his race against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and it obviously made little difference to his victory. Campaign officials for DeSantis said that he would address issues after he won the nomination.
Democrats also took aim at DeSantis for using the racially questionable term of “monkey” when talking about Gillum earlier this morning on Fox News.
“We have to work hard to make sure we continue Florida going in a good direction,” he said on Fox & Friends. “Let’s build off the success of Governor Scott. 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.”
Frankel blasted it as a “racist, disgusting statement,” and Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo called it a “racist dog whistle.”
The DeSantis camp called the charges “absurd.”
“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses,” said DeSantis spokesman Stephen Lawson. “To characterize it as anything else is absurd. 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.”
Later on Wednesday, a Fox News anchor said, “We do not condone this language, and wanted our viewers to know that he has since clarified his statement.”
Also using the “S” word was President Trump, who tweeted this morning that “a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city. This is not what Florida wants or needs.”
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) August 29, 2018