While the Democratic field for Governor continues to swell, we’re seeing just the opposite happen on the Republican side. What was once a large crop of prospective candidates, has now boiled down to the classic “establishment” versus “conservative” matchup.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has long been the GOP favorite for 2018. He has put together exactly the kind of campaign that we all expected, raising impressive sums of money each month and putting together a veteran team of DC-based consultants.
Putnam, who announced his campaign nearly 18 months before the election, is leaning on his extensive political experience and disciplined campaigning to outlast and outwork any potential opponents.
On the other side of this coin are the conservatives: House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. Both potential candidates share a principled-conservative philosophy, and they both would bring a background that would resonate with today’s conservative grassroots.
Now, if you watch Fox News, you’ve probably seen DeSantis — he has become a frequent guest. However, you’d think several weekly appearances on the most-watched channel of Republican primary voters would put DeSantis on their radar. It hasn’t. A recent poll from St. Leo University shows DeSantis bunched up with Corcoran in the low single digits. And if he were to get in the race, he would not be able to benefit from additional free media attention.
For either candidate to gain ground on Putnam, they’ll need to put together a serious statewide operation and raise real money. And while Corcoran has raised $5.5 million in six months, DeSantis has only been able to pocket $1.8, coming mostly from a small handful of six-figure donors.
So, when it comes to fundraising, DeSantis has yet to show any signs that he can put together a viable statewide campaign. For those whom may have forgotten, DeSantis ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2016, but like what’s unfolding today, he struggled to raise money, and his campaign never got off the ground.
Now, maybe it’s possible that President Donald Trump will get into a contested primary six (or seven) months before the election, backing an unproven candidate. Maybe that endorsement will bring in a few more big checks.
And then, maybe, DeSantis will be able to put together a serious campaign.
But after four or five postponed announcements for Governor, those “maybes” keep getting less and less likely. It’s hard to see a scenario where DeSantis pulls the trigger — and even if he did, it’s hard to see it ending up much differently than his failed 2016 Senate campaign. Of course, he may call an audible and jump instead into the Attorney General race, where he would be much more competitive.
Corcoran, on the other hand, has quietly built a formidable political operation. He is widely regarded as Tallahassee’s most disruptive legislator and one of the most consequential Republican Speakers of the House.
Of course, in some circles that’s praise; in others — mainly inside the Tallahassee bubble — he is an enemy of the state. He has picked a fight with every political heavyweight and special interest, ruffling a lot of feathers of the Republican donor class.
And even though he says he won’t decide until after the 2018 Legislative Session, which ends in March, his political committee, Watchdog PAC, has all the makings of a serious statewide campaign.
On top of the overall fundraising, Corcoran pulled in $752,000 in November. A number that outpaced Putnam’s PC’s $616,000, and was double that of DeSantis’ $380,000.
Finally, Corcoran’s political committee has attracted top political consultants, including Trump and Gov. Rick Scott’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s media consultants, Jamestown Associates, and has also begun staffing the organization with high caliber campaign operatives.
Right now, all signs point to a classic Republican primary duel brewing between the polished and well-established campaign of Putnam versus the disruptive, conservative insurgent in Corcoran. And while DeSantis may still get mentioned as a potential candidate, it’s merely a formality — because that duck won’t be quacking.