Richard Corcoran must be kicking himself right now.
If the House Speaker knew a month ago what the rest of the state does now — that a former employee of Adam Putnam’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services failed for more than a year to conduct national background checks on applications for concealed weapons licenses — would he have scrubbed his gubernatorial bid and endorsed the Bartow Republican?
Probably not. And with Putnam’s campaign imploding and calls for his outright resignation from Democrats reaching a fever pitch, a nervous Florida GOP establishment may have turned its desperate eyes to the Pasco lawmaker.
It’s not clear how much damage this scandal will do to Putnam. Will it drive him from the race? Will it keep him from winning the primary? If he wins the primary, does it hobble him in a general election? We probably need another 72 to 96 hours to see where Putnam stands. But one thing is certain. He is no longer the front-runner for the GOP nomination. He probably hasn’t been for a few weeks.
As Putnam stumbles, it’s increasingly probable that twenty years of Republican control of the Governor’s Mansion will come to an end this November.
Yes, Ron DeSantis can win the general election. The people who say he can’t just because he’s backed by Donald Trump are many of the same geniuses who had Hillary Clinton winning the Sunshine State on her way to The White House.
DeSantis can win, I just don’t think he will. I think the PredictIt Market that pegs it at about a three-to-two possibility that a Democrat will win in November feels right. Conversely, the Republicans — either DeSantis or Putnam — being given about a 40 percent chance also seems about right.
If Putnam does lose to DeSantis, the Florida GOP establishment will embrace the “outsider” DeSantis even quicker than it did Rick Scott after he defeated Bill McCollum in 2010.
DeSantis’ campaign manager is Brad Herold, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Florida. DeSantis’ finance director’s last job was for Senate President Joe Negron. DeSantis’ big donors are major donors to Trump, the party, etc. In other words, there are many more overlaps between DeSantis World and the Florida GOP than there were between Scott and the then-establishment.
Don’t for a second believe that The Establishment wants to see DeSantis beat Putnam. The heaviest of heavyweights — The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Disney, Florida Power & Light, the sugar industry, the mega-networked lobbying firms — have been investing in Putnam for more than a decade. For there to be zero return on this investment will be difficult to stomach.
The Establishment also hasn’t really liked the last eight years under Scott, at least not the way they liked it under Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. Those were the salad days. Under Scott, the governing strategy has been to stay off his administration’s radar, stay out of the news, and cut $50,000 checks to his political committee whenever one of his fundraisers made an ask.
The Establishment hoped to strike back under Putnam. However, for the third time in eight years — McCollum losing in 2010, Bush flailing in 2016, and Putnam faltering now — its plans are being thwarted.
It can’t be overstated just how shocked many establishment figures and lobbyists were during DeSantis’ recent tour of Tallahassee, where he met with dozens of top lobbyists. It wasn’t just that these insiders were alarmed by the Ponte Vedra Republican’s lack of knowledge about issues facing the state, it was the indifference and disdain he displayed while meeting with them. Almost every one of the lobbyists I spoke with who met with DeSantis mentioned how often he checked his phone, as if they were on a bad first date. He asked few, if any, questions about what concerns or suggestions they had. Instead it was just Trump, Trump, and more Trump.
The Establishment has been licking its Scott-inflicted wounds for nearly eight years and in DeSantis it sees another four years of living under an absentee landlord who, if we’re honest about it, would rather be in D.C. than Tallahassee.
So the Florida GOP, which has held hegemonic control over the state since 1998, faces limited choices.
— It can grin and bear DeSantis. That’s what most will do. There are top-tier lobbying firms already positioned to thrive under a DeSantis administration.
— It can back-door its support for Gwen Graham or Philip Levine. This is what some — not many but some — will do. And they’ll keep their Republican bona fides by doubling-down on their donations to incoming legislative leaders Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva.
OR … and with thirteen days until candidate qualifying closes, this is crazy … The Establishment could Draft Pam Bondi.
The Attorney General chose not to run for higher office this cycle. And she didn’t get/take a position in the Trump White House, despite her ties to the president. She’s coy about what her plans are for when she leaves office, although many expect her to pursue a track in television, specifically with Fox News.
She’s also never expressed any real interest in being Governor.
But … if she wanted it … it’s there.
There hasn’t been recent polling, at least none that I’ve seen, but a survey last year from Associated Industries of Florida showed Republican voters giving Bondi high marks. Fifty-four percent approve of the job she was doing, while just 12 percent had an unfavorable view and 17 percent said they had no opinion. She stood heads-and-shoulders above any Republican not named Scott, including Putnam.
Bondi would have some issues in the general election, especially because of a scandal linking a donation from Trump to a decision not to pursue a legal case against his “university,” but she also has a strong record she can run on, including her fight against pill mills.
Could she beat DeSantis in the primary? She probably has a better chance of doing so than Putnam does at this point. It would be a tall order to raise the kind of money she would need to win, but at least she wouldn’t be out-Trumped by DeSantis the way Putnam has been.
Meanwhile, the GOP Establishment would quickly transfer its support from Putnam to her because the devil you know (Bondi) is always better than the devil you don’t (DeSantis).
I don’t even know what a general election match-up would look like between Bondi and Graham or Levine, but Bondi probably has a better shot at keeping the moderate Republican women voters turned off by Trump in this so-called “Year of the Woman.”
Bondi is both incredibly telegenic and personable on a retail level, so she would give the Republicans their best chance at holding on to power. If she is the nominee, those PredictIt odds instantly move from three-to-two against to better than even money.
Only there’s just two weeks to convince Bondi that she’s the best candidate to help the party maintain control of the Governor’s Mansion through the next presidential election and redistricting process. She’d have to put on hold whatever those apolitical ambitions are that so many believe she has. She’d have to raise money 24 hours a day for the next four months. She’d have to convince Donald Trump not to weigh in too heavily in the Republican primary. And that only gets her to the general election, where a blue wave is supposedly building.
But it’s all there if Pam Bondi wants it.