A Trump administration official on Saturday called the Florida gubernatorial race, in which the Democratic candidate is seeking to become the state’s first black governor, “cotton-pickin’ important.”
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue used the racially charged phrase while campaigning for Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidiate, in Lakeland, Florida. American Bridge, a Democratic super political action committee, 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.”
The Agriculture Department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. A DeSantis spokesman told Politico that the candidate was “happy” to have Perdue, the former GOP governor of Georgia, campaign for him. The spokesman and told the 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 the cotton plantations in Southern states that used slave labor.
David Bossie, a former campaign manager for President 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 him, “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.”
Racial overtones have marked the closely contested race between DeSantis, who is white, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is black,
In late August, DeSantis faced a backlash after he said during an interview on Fox News that Florida shouldn’t “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.
“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.
Later in the campaign, voters started getting robocalls from a person pretending to be Gillum who spoke in an exaggerated dialect. Drums and jungle noises played 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 robocalls were funded by a neo-Nazi website based in Idaho.