With three weeks until Election Day, and polls showing him behind as absentee ballots are cast, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is investing some time this week in the Jacksonville market.
On Monday evening, Putnam gripped and grinned at Grape and Grain in San Marco, at a “Conservatives and Cocktails” bash/straw poll event held by the Jacksonville Young Republicans.
Putnam has had strong local support in Jacksonville, and the event felt like a homecoming — the room, full of politicians, would be politicians, and the operatives of the past, present, and future — was an establishment Republican through and through.
If one didn’t know it was August, they might recall the balm of a June HQ opening saw U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, state Sen. Aaron Bean, and Jacksonville City Council President-designate Aaron Bowman.
As a measure of changing times in the race, Putnam was buoyed by a 17 point lead in a Florida Chamber poll, and was “very pleased” with the campaign’s progress.
However, a lot has happened since the spring. For starters, Pres. Donald Trump has stumped for Putnam’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. And polls have flipped, to the point where certain pundits are discussing whether or not Putnam should drop out now.
Putnam, who was feisty during his remarks to the crowd, including asking them if they wanted a “Floridian” representing them, definitely is not leaving the race.
We asked him about the Trump/DeSantis rally, and Putnam was terse, saying he was “glad [he] was embracing my workforce development plan.”
When we asked Putnam if he expected to be mentioned from the stage, which didn’t happen, Putnam said he “didn’t give the matter much thought.”
Putnam did well Monday night, but most voters won’t see that. What will be seen: both he and DeSantis get another major opportunity to connect with Jacksonville voters, as they co-appear on a debate stage Wednesday night.
The 8 p.m. debate will be televised locally on WJXT, the only televised debate between the two candidates not hosted by Fox News.
For Putnam, Wednesday night may be the best, even only, opportunity to establish why it is important that he “knows Florida best.”
Some factors mitigate in Putnam’s favor: Moderator Kent Justice tends to have a cool style, avoiding pyrotechnics and confrontation with subjects in the manner of a Chuck Todd. Justice’s Sunday show tends to be the only mandatory stopover for statewide candidates as they swing through Northeast Florida for fundraisers or whatnot.
However, DeSantis has, in Jacksonville, a certain home-field advantage. His Congressional district extends to just miles from the southern parts of Duval County. And his wife Casey Black DeSantis has been a mainstay on Jacksonville television, including on WJXT itself for years.