Usually when President Trump comes to Florida, it’s for a weekend visit to his resort home Mar-a-Lago. This time when the President steps off of Air Force One Tuesday in Tampa it’ll be to complete something he started in June – the job of kingmaker.
Just over a month ago, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was riding high in his campaign for governor – leading in endorsements, money and by double digits in the polls. On June 22 President Trump tweeted his full endorsement for Putnam’s opponent, Congressman Ron DeSantis. Since then Putnam’s and DeSantis’ roles have reversed. DeSantis now rides sky high bolstered by the Presidential endorsement.
Putnam’s camp likes to call the Congressman “D.C. DeSantis” – a better name may be Teflon Ron because no matter what Putnam throws at him, nothing sticks. The D.C.-insider, Florida-outsider, food stamps to illegals, federal sales tax loving Congressman leads by double digits in many polls. A majority of Florida Republicans seem to only care about one qualification, that he’s endorsed by Trump.
Never before has a President influenced a primary for Florida governor like Trump has this race. Long time Republican strategist, and one of the most well-known Never-Trumpers, Rick Wilson says this doesn’t bode well for the future of the GOP. “The Republican Party is dead, and the Trump Party is in its place. Adam Putnam isn’t out of the fight, but DeSantis is on the Trump Channel every night, and the vetting process isn’t about experience, credentials, or policy; it’s about who gets the right Tweet from Trump.”
Wilson alludes to DeSantis’ frequent appearances on Fox News, something that provided a free name ID boost to the Congressman while Putnam was spending millions on paid television ads. DeSantis’ relationships with Fox News celebrities Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin have led to endorsements. Hannity and Levin have also campaigned with the Congressman.
But the golden endorsement is from who DeSantis calls “the big guy.” DeSantis is all-in on Trump’s endorsement. Even in his latest campaign commercial, DeSantis doubles down while introducing Republican voters to his wife and children.
DeSantis knows the impact of the Trump endorsement and he won’t change his strategy between now and primary election day on August 28. “Nobody has the kind of megaphone he has. He’s excited about the developments in this race. Florida’s like a second home to him,” DeSantis said after a recent rally in Jacksonville.
The weight of the Trump endorsement has been a tough pill to swallow for Putnam. Many thought Putnam was destined to be Florida governor since he first was elected to the state House of Representatives as a 22 year old. Unless there’s some dramatic shift in the race in the next few weeks, he’s facing a forced political retirement for the first time in his adult life. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wish he weren’t coming to campaign for my opponent,” Putnam told FLA News. “I can understand how they’ve built a relationship in Washington, but this is a race for Florida.”
And Florida is where ground zero will be Tuesday night when President Trump holds a MAGA rally and Congressman DeSantis joins him on stage – an event Republican voters will be constantly reminded of in campaign commercials for the next four weeks. As much as Putnam’s campaign would like this race to focus on Florida-specific issues, DeSantis has succeeded in making this a referendum on Trump’s popularity among state Republicans. As of this moment – it’s a can’t lose strategy.