Since Adam Putnam entered the governor’s race in May 2017 to great fanfare in his hometown of Bartow, he’s been the presumptive frontrunner. He’s raised the most money, and as recently as three weeks ago led by double digits over his GOP opponent Ron DeSantis. Putnam seemed headed for victory. Now he’s got a fight on his hands.
Six weeks before voters will select a nominee, the Republican candidate with the most momentum is DeSantis.
President Donald Trump endorsed DeSantis for governor. Trump has a popularity rating among Republicans in the mid to upper 80s. Fox News host Sean Hannity followed up with his own endorsement and a three city tour with DeSantis. Another popular radio talk show host Mark Levin joined DeSantis over the weekend at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter and tee’d off on the state Agriculture Commissioner. “In what way is Adam Putnam a conservative? I can’t think of one,” Levin said. “I can think of a thousand ways Ron is a conservative.”
Keeping the big ‘mo going, the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., will campaign with DeSantis Wednesday in Orlando.
DeSantis talks about state issues on the stump, but continues to focus on the red meat issues coming out of Washington, DC – which tends to get the biggest audience response. Comparing Putnam to Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters gets the largest applause lines.
Agriculture Commission Putnam, on the other hand, continues to take a beating for his office’s mishandling of the state’s concealed weapons permit licensing program between 2016 and 2017. Last week Politico Florida reported that Putnam’s office amended a critical inspector general report in late June, more than a year after the IG report was completed. Putnam’s campaign tries to change the message.
On Friday in Jacksonville, Putnam rolled out a policy plan to help veterans and Florida’s military bases.
The event was sparsely attended and likely underscored that DeSantis is a Navy veteran who served in combat while Putnam never served.
The race is certainly a contrast among the two Republican candidates. Putnam is the establishment candidate, backed by big business interests and running a traditional campaign. DeSantis relies heavily on frequent FOX News interview appearances, and as his new campaign commercial says, he has the support of “the big man.”
There’s been no independent public polling that’s gauged the impact of the Trump endorsement on the race. A poll conducted by an organization backing DeSantis showed the Northeast Florida congressman has a double digit lead on Putnam. That seems unlikely since it would represent a 30-point swing in both Fox News and NBC News/Marist polls.
One thing that could represent a seismic shift in the race is Air Force One landing in Florida and President Trump standing onstage with DeSantis to show his support. It’s an event that could convince primary voters, who tend to be more conservative Republicans, to cast their ballot for DeSantis.
History is also a good reminder on where this race may be headed. Putnam is the 2018 version of former Congressman and Attorney General Bill McCollum, who was backed by the GOP establishment. DeSantis is the 2018 version of Rick Scott, the candidate who came out of nowhere and shocked the political insiders by winning the Republican primary and then the Governor’s mansion.
If you’re Putnam you use the next 42 days running to the right, embracing President Trump’s policies and dropping the wonky policy discussions. DeSantis’ strategy is clear – reminding voters over and over ago that he has Trump’s support, get on Fox News as much as possible and turn this contest into a national race rather than a focus on Florida-only issues.