FLORIDA — Rep. Ron DeSantis, who won the Florida Republican primary for governor, made a statement on Fox News on Wednesday about his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, that many people decried as having racist undertones.

  • Interview aired on Fox News on Wednesday morning
  • DeSantis camp said he was talking about Gillum's socialist policies
  • State Sen. Darryl Rouson: Comment was 'deplorable'

"The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases," DeSantis said during the morning appearance on the network.

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo in a statement calle DeSantis' words "disgusting" with "racist dog whistles."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida said it was a "racist slur," and DeSantis "owes all Floridians an apology."

A Fox News anchor told viewers "we do not condone the language."

The DeSantis campaign later released a clarifying statement. 

“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.”

Trying to take the high road

It's an argument Gillum wasn't buying. The Democratic candidate said DeSantis and Trump are playing in the gutter.

"He's clearly pulling his campaign playbook straight from that of Donald Trump. A politics of derision and division," Gillum said. "They're sorely underestimating the people of the state of Florida if they think that that is going to be acceptable in this State come Nov. 6."

Democratic State Sen. Darryl Rouson called DeSantis' comment "deplorable."

"At worst, it's a racist comment and at least, it is ignorant or it's insensitive," he said. "Referring to an African-American who had just made history by becoming his Democratic party nominee for governor in the state of Florida or even referring to his agenda as being a 'monkey' agenda."

Rouson said it's absurd to think that DeSantis doesn't understand the historical context of using such a word.

"This is something that has been historical in its usage to divide, to criticize, to ridicule, and it's not appropriate in the political arena," he said. "I want to see this race run on the issues. I want to see it run honorably."