A Trump administration official on Saturday reportedly called the Florida gubernatorial race, which includes a candidate who could potentially be the state’s first black governor, “cotton-pickin’ important.”
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue used the racially-charged phrase while campaigning for Florida’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis in Lakeland, Florida. Democratic Super PAC American Bridge obtained an audio recording of Perdue’s speech.
“Public policy matters. Leadership matters,” Perdue can be heard saying. “And that is why this election is so cotton-pickin’ important to the state of Florida. I hope you all don’t mess it up.”
Perdue’s department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. A DeSantis spokesman told Politico that they were “happy” to have Perdue campaign for him and told the political news site to contact Perdue directly to comment on his remarks.
Merrian-Webster’s defines “cotton-picking” as another way of saying “damned,” but the phrase evokes race and is tied to cotton plantations in southern states where African slaves were forced to work.
David Bossie, a former campaign manager for Donald Trump, was temporarily suspended from his role as a Fox News contributor after using the phrase in June. On air, Bossie told Joel Payne, a black Democratic strategist, that he was “out of his cotton-picking mind.”
Payne rebuked Bossie’s racist remark, telling Bossie, “I have some relatives who picked cotton, and I’m not going to sit back and let you attack me on TV like that.” Fox News later issued a statement calling Bossie’s comments “deeply offensive and wholly inappropriate.”
Perdue’s remark on Saturday isn’t the only racist thing to surface during the gubernatorial rivalry between DeSantis, who is white, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is black.
DeSantis faced an uproar of backlash after he argued that Florida shouldn’t “monkey this up,” while speaking on Fox News about the upcoming election.
“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,” DeSantis told the conservative news network.
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo equated DeSantis’ choice of words to “racist dog whistles.”
In DeSantis’ defense, campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson said the GOP candidate was talking about voters embracing Gillum’s “socialist policies.”
“To characterize it as anything else is absurd,” Lawson told HuffPost.
Days after DeSantis made his “monkey this up” remarks, voters started getting robo-calls from a person pretending to be Gillum who spoke in an exaggerated dialect. Drums and jungle noises play in the background during the call.
Black people “done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an’ stone,” the speaker said. The robo-calls were funded by a neo-Nazi website.
Gillum and DeSantis are in a tight race to be Governor of Florida. Polls currently have Gillum leading DeSantis by 2.6 points.