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Joe Henderson: Publix will survive this, but Adam Putnam? We’ll see

If Adam Putnam’s campaign for Governor ultimately crashes on the rocks, historians will note the time of 8:27 p.m., July 25, 2017, as the point where it began to unravel.

That’s when he sent out a fateful tweet that was equal parts of bravado and miscalculation. It read: “The liberal media recently called me a sellout to the NRA. I’m a proud #NRASellout!”  

Putnam may have believed he was invincible at that point. He didn’t have a serious challenger looming for the Republican nomination and, well, don’t GOP candidates always win the Governor’s race in Florida?

He had money, folksy charm, name recognition, along with the perception by many that this was just his time. After serving in Congress and two terms as state Agriculture Commissioner, this fifth-generation Floridian with small-town Bartow roots seemed to have everything going his way.

But that changed on Valentine’s Day when 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

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The resulting backlash against the NRA, led by student outrage at how Florida Republicans rubber-stamp basically anything from the gun lobby, brought new and now-unwanted attention to Putnam.

Suddenly, being a “proud NRA sellout” didn’t sound like such a hot idea.

Then, the Tampa Bay Times uncorked a scoop that brought even more eyebrow-raising attention to Putnam. It reported top officials at the beloved Florida grocery chain Publix had donated more than $670,000 to Putnam in the last three years — far more support than it had given any other candidate.

Publix tried to explain it was just supporting a pro-business candidate, but a lot of people couldn’t get past “Proud NRA Sellout.”

Just a few days after that story appeared, 10 people were murdered at Santa Fe High School in Texas. That focused more attention on Publix and, by extension, Putnam.

Calls for a boycott of Publix for its support of gun-loving Putnam quickly grew loud throughout the state, and it has had an impact. The massive grocery chain, realizing potential damage to the brand, had to issue a statement to CBS.com saying it is reconsidering how to handle such matters in the future.

“We regret that some of our political contributions have led to an unintentional customer divide instead of our desire to support a growing economy in Florida,” Publix said in an email to CBS.

“As a result of this situation, we are evaluating our processes to ensure that our giving better reflects our intended desire to support a strong economy and a healthy community.”

Since all of this hit the fan, Putnam’s tweets have concentrated on mundane campaign stuff like the Newberry Watermelon Festival parade last Saturday. He hasn’t used that medium to address the controversy with Publix or the growing backlash against the NRA.

The closest he came to any of this was a tweet that said he was “saddened” by the murders at Santa Fe.

I’m sure he was, but there’s a difference between being “saddened” and being willing to be an agent of change to a culture that believes guns are as essential as food and water.

Putnam’s candidacy remains strong though, and he still bashing the so-called “liberal elite” at every opportunity. I can’t see him losing the GOP nomination to an even more strident Ron DeSantis, and Democrats have yet to prove they have a winning formula.

But it’s not the sure thing it used to look like.

When Publix starts to move an arm’s length away, you may have a problem.

Publix will survive this.

Putnam? Too soon to say.

The internet lasts forever. If you tweet it, you own it.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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