Florida’s next governor will be someone who knows the state the best, Adam Putnam said during a campaign appearance Wednesday in Southwest St. Petersburg.
As the presumptive favorite for the GOP gubernatorial nomination this year, Putnam met with veterans and other supporters at the Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay, a nonprofit that provides economic and therapeutic support for veterans and their families while promoting talent and creativity.
The visit came a day after a new poll shows the Agriculture Commissioner could have a genuine fight on his hands to win the nomination later this summer.
Putnam is only four points ahead of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, 27 to 23 percent, according to the Mason-Dixon survey.
While Putnam has been on the campaign trail since last spring, DeSantis announced his candidacy last month and is still apparently catching up on issues of interest to Floridians.
At least that appeared to be the case last week at DeSantis’ official campaign kickoff announcement in Boca Raton when reporters asked for his take on Amendment 4, the citizen-led initiative set for the November ballot to restore voting rights to most convicted felons in Florida.
DeSantis told the Miami Herald: “I haven’t looked at it yet, but I’ll look at it.”
Putnam wasn’t surprised DeSantis couldn’t offer an opinion on the issue.
“He’s running a very Washington-centric campaign,” Putnam said Wednesday. “He’s very focused on Washington issues, and Washington’s not going to solve Florida’s problems.”
Putnam should know, as he represented Polk County in Congress for a decade before returning to Florida in 2010, serving the last seven years as Agriculture Commissioner. Later this year, he hopes to extend his stay in Tallahassee for another 4-8 years as Governor.
If elected, DeSantis said he would come to Tallahassee to “drain the swamp,” a phrase invoked by Donald Trump and his supporters about Washington D.C. during the 2016 campaign.
Putnam sees some obvious differences.
“Any number of people randomly selected off the sidewalk would agree that Washington is a swamp,” he said. “Here in Florida, we balance our budget every year, we cut taxes every year, we’ve taken the unemployment rate from almost twelve to under four percent, paid off $5 billion in debt, and we’re a thriving economy, so we have the ability to focus on taking Florida to the next level, and I think that just reinforces his Washington centric view of the world.”
DeSantis spokesman Brad Herold returned the volley later in the day, calling Putnam “a creation of the Washington establishment who’s done nothing to help Rick Scott’s conservative agenda in Tallahassee over the last 7 years.”
“Now, all of a sudden, he’s running for Governor and is pretending to be a “Florida Conservative” and take credit for Florida’s job growth,” Herald said. “Adam Putnam may have been born in Florida, but his policies were born in the Washington swamp.”
“I’ve always said that there ought to be a streamlined method for restoration of rights for nonviolent offenders, even first-time offenders, perhaps it’s automatic,” he said. But allowing those who commit violent crimes (with the above exceptions) to get their rights restored is a bridge too far for him, and others, he predicts.
“I think when the public hears about, for example, when Mothers Against Drunk Drivers hear about the number of manslaughter cases that will not fall under that exception and they will automatically get their rights back, I think that it goes further than I’m comfortable with.”
Putnam’s campaign mantra of “Florida First” was in prime form Wednesday, as he touted the work of Gov. Rick Scott and the rest of the state Cabinet to make sure that military veterans can transition successfully back into civilian life.
He also talked about how in 2015 the state began expediting concealed weapon license applications for active military and veterans, shortly after five members of the military were shot and killed at a Chattanooga military recruiting and training centers.
The state now waives the first application for business permits for veterans, Putnam noted, touting a program called Outdoor Freedom, offered by the Florida Forest Service that provides recreational opportunities to wounded veterans.
About two dozen people were in attendance for the low-key event, giving him plenty of time to engage with supporters.
One attendee, Mike Courtney, wore a T-shirt that proclaimed he was a Putnam supporter since “Day One.”
Courtney, a resident of Clearwater, questioned how Trump’s endorsement would play out for DeSantis in the primary.
While Trump tweeting that DeSantis was his guy (before DeSantis officially declared) has undoubtedly helped boost his name recognition, Courtney surmised the endorsement could be a problem for the North Florida congressman.
“I voted for Trump, but I’m not sure I would want him to endorse me for anything,” Courtney said laughing. “It’s going to play a part, but who knows what kind of part?”