The highest official in President Trump’s Department of Agriculture, Secretary Sonny Perdue, said on Saturday while campaigning in the Florida gubernatorial race that it was “cotton-pickin’ important” to vote for Ron DeSantis, the Republican endorsed by Trump. DeSantis, who is white, is running against Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, who, if elected, would be the first black governor of the state.
“Public policy matters; leadership matters,” Perdue, a former Georgia governor, said during a campaign event. “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.”
Vox points out that “cotton-pickin’” is Southern slang approximating “darn,” but it’s also known to be associated with black slaves who used to pick cotton on Southern plantations before the abolition of slavery.
When asked about the comment, DeSantis’ representative advised Politico speak to Perdue. “We were happy to have him in Polk County campaigning with us,” Stephen Lawson, a DeSantis spokesman, told Politico.
DeSantis and Gillum’s campaign has been marked by racism, ever since the day after Gillum’s surprise primary win, when DeSantis went on TV and told Floridians to not “monkey this up” by voting for him. Since then, it has come out that DeSantis attended far-right conferences, moderated Facebook groups full of racists, and accepted donations from racists that he hasn’t returned. Gillum has also endured racist robocalls from a white supremacist group, who are now targeting Stacy Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign in Georgia.
DeSantis was asked about one of these incidents at the final Florida gubernatorial debate. After DeSantis responded to the question angrily, Gillum commented, “I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
The latest polls from RealClearPolitics say that Gillum is up by about two points ahead of Tuesday’s election.