Racist robocalls target black candidate for Florida governor

racist robocalls target black candidate for florida governor
Aug 28, 2018; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum celebrates his victory with supporters during his election watch party at Hotel Duval. Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone/Tallahassee Democrat via USA TODAY NETWORK

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Racist robocalls to voters from a white nationalist group targeting Andrew Gillum, the Democratic party’s African-American candidate for Florida governor, were condemned on Saturday by both major campaigns contesting November’s election.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, which first reported on the robocalls, they include jungle noises in the background and a man who pretends to be Gillum, the 39-year-old mayor of Tallahassee, using a minstrel performer’s exaggerated accent and speaking about mud huts.

It was not clear how many Florida voters received the robocalls on Friday. While denouncing the calls as racist, Gillum spokesman’s Geoff Burgan said they should not be given undeserved attention.

“This is reprehensible — and could only have come from someone with intentions to fuel hatred and seek publicity,” Burgan said in statement.

After scoring a surprise victory in this week’s Democratic primary, Gillum could become Florida’s first black governor if he beats Republican party’s candidate Ron DeSantis in November.

A spokesman for DeSantis, Stephen Lawson, also condemned the robocalls as “absolutely appalling and disgusting.”

“Hopefully whoever is behind this has to answer for this despicable action,” Lawson said in a statement.

DeSantis, a U.S. congressman backed by President Donald Trump, came under fire himself on Wednesday when he said Florida voters should not “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.

Critics blasted DeSantis for the comment, which they said was racist. Lawson said at the time that DeSantis was referring to Gillum’s political positions, not his race.

The robocall received by some voters on Friday included a message saying it was funded by The Road to Power, an anti-Semitic and white supremacist website linked to Idaho resident Scott Rhoades, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. The newspaper said his group had been behind robocall campaigns during political contests in states including Virginia, Oregon and California.

Rhoades could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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