Text Messages to Jewish Voters Inflame Tense Florida Governor’s Race

MIAMI — Text messages portraying the campaign of Florida’s Democratic candidate for governor as anti-Semitic buzzed into the cellphones of some Jewish voters on Thursday night, escalating political attacks in a closely watched race that has already been ugly.

“Newly unearthed comments made by Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum’s running mate raise serious concerns about Gillum’s ever-mounting ties to blatant anti-Semitism,” the text messages read.

The messages referred to comments made nearly two decades ago by Chris King, Mr. Gillum’s pick to be lieutenant governor, when Mr. King was in college.

Mr. Gillum’s campaign called the messages a sign of “abusive tactics” by his Republican opponent, former Representative Ron DeSantis.

Mr. DeSantis “is running one of the most divisive and toxic campaigns in Florida history — and tonight that means extreme right-wing spam text messages,” Joanna Cervone, Mr. Gillum’s communications director, said in a statement.

The DeSantis campaign did not deny being behind the text messages, which appeared to target voters with Jewish last names.

“Chris King’s comments speak for themselves,” Stephen Lawson, Mr. DeSantis’s communications director, said in a statement. “The Gillum campaign should spend more time addressing why they said them and less time about how voters are finding out about them.”

Mr. King, 39, lost a 1998 race to become the student body president at Harvard.

“I was nailed to the cross,” Mr. King, an evangelical Christian, said in 1999, referring to how the college’s newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, had covered his campaign. “And most of the editorial staff that was so hard on me, the vast majority were Jewish.”

The comments resurfaced during the primary for governor, in which Mr. King, an Orlando-area entrepreneur, and Mr. Gillum, the 39-year-old mayor of Tallahassee, competed with several other Democrats for the nomination. When Mr. Gillum triumphed, he selected Mr. King as his running mate.

Mr. King has apologized for the remarks.

“The comment that I made there I’ve said was wrong,” he said on a Miami podcast in July, during the primary race. “It hurt feelings. And I was sorry about making that comment 20 years ago. It was certainly not reflective then or now of my belief in diversity.”

Mr. DeSantis, 40, who has lagged behind Mr. Gillum in recent public polls, told reporters in Florida this week that they had focused too much on racial controversies surrounding his campaign and not enough on Mr. Gillum’s associations with the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Dream Defenders, a minority youth-activist group. Both have called for boycotts against Israel, a position Mr. Gillum says he rejects.

“I can find anti-Semites around him,” Mr. DeSantis said on Monday, without referring to Mr. King’s past remarks. “But it’s almost like we don’t want to discuss that.”

A day earlier, members of the Proud Boys, a group of self-described “Western chauvinists,” had attended a rally for Mr. DeSantis in Sarasota. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the Proud Boys a hate group; Mr. DeSantis has said he does not condone the Proud Boys or others who might show up at his events with beliefs he doesn’t share.

On Wednesday, Mr. DeSantis brought on Susie Wiles, who led President Trump’s successful Florida campaign in 2016, to chair his campaign for governor.

The move for Mr. DeSantis, a fierce Trump supporter, was seen as an internal shake-up intended to steady his faltering campaign, which has appeared unsettled since the day after the Aug. 28 primary, when Mr. DeSantis said Mr. Gillum’s surprise Democratic victory could lead to a far-left agenda that would “monkey this up.”

Mr. Gillum, who is African-American, and others characterized the phrase as more than a racist dog-whistle — “bullhorns,” he said.

Mr. DeSantis later faced questions about speaking at conferences organized by right-wing provocateurs and not returning campaign donations from a supporter who called former President Barack Obama a racist slur on Twitter.

“I do think it is interesting that racists tend to align themselves with Mr. DeSantis,” Mr. Gillum told reporters in Miami last week. “And I think he’s got to deal with why it is that, repeatedly, over the course of his campaign trail, he’s having to explain that relationship and those friendships and the language that not only he himself has used but also the people that are around him.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*