Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is still the frontrunner in the money race on the Republican side of the primary, even as U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is effectively even in the polls.
As Putnam has done since he launched what he called a “complete campaign” months ago, his Jacksonville appearance was full of familiar anecdotes, but also featured sharper attacks against the Democratic field than he leveled at DeSantis, whose challenge was not directly addressed in remarks to a crowd of roughly 50 supporters inside a Southside Jacksonville diner (and 15 protesters outside, chanting “Shame on you” and “Putnam don’t pay” as he wound through his remarks Wednesday morning).
Putnam’s pitch was blunt and homespun, particularly when mentioning that unnamed Democrats are criticizing him for BBQ events.
“What kind of pinko communist attacks people for doing barbeques,” Putnam asked, suggesting that the Democratic candidate spend more time at barbecues so they can figure out why voters are rejecting their message, and adding that “three quarters of [the candidates in last week’s debate] say they start their day by reading the New York Times.”
In a gaggle after his remarks, Putnam said more about the Democratic debate, including stressing that he starts his day reading “Florida sources … Florida blogs, Florida newspapers.”
“You have to start your day with a healthy dose of Florida news and a healthy dose of SEC sports, with Saturday Down South,” Putnam added.
Regarding the question on the education budget, Putnam noted that “no one knew the answer,” with candidates off by “a billion here, a billion there.”
“The Democratic debate was so disturbing and so unsatisfying to the Democrats that they’re now talking about recruiting yet another former Republican to be their standard bearer, who would be running with a current Republican running mate,” Putnam said, referring to the hypothetical Patrick Murphy/David Jolly ticket.
“The debacle speaks for itself,” Putnam said.
His critiques extended to the left wing as well.
“They’re so mad about who’s in the White House that they can’t see straight,” Putnam said. “The left is trying to hijack Florida.”
Putnam would not condemn DeSantis, nor would he take the bait on the decision of President Donald Trump to endorse the Northeast Florida Congressman, saying he’s “focused on running the best campaign [he] can run.”
“Washington’s not going to fix our problems,” Putnam said, “and Floridians expect their Governor to be in their neighborhood, in their community.”
“You cannot run for Governor from a D.C. studio,” he said. “I’m running a Florida first campaign. I’m in people’s living rooms, in their coffee shops and diners. I am spending every single day looking people in the eye, shaking people’s hands, and sharing my Florida First agenda with them on what I would do as their Governor.”
After the event wrapped, 10 of the protesters were still outside. Putnam made the choice to engage them, shaking hands and making small talk about where they went to school and the like.
Then he closed with an extended conversation with the regional director for “For Our Future,” a left-leaning group who showed up to protest reports that in 2008, Putnam’s family farm had paid four contractors sub-minimum wage rates (which he framed as a bookkeeping error when addressing it with press).
For those who might have expected any of the protesters, who had signs condemning the candidate, to engage him directly on the issues, they would have been disappointed.
Putnam and the regional director bantered, with her describing working in the celery fields “on the mule train.”
Discussions of celery grating and “firing the grove” in what Putnam called “the celery capital of the world” followed, with Putnam describing ways of said firing.
“I know about those wages,” she said to Putnam. “You basically said you took care of that situation.”
Putnam confirmed that, adding that “our people are the most important part of any business.”
They closed with a high-five.
“That’s my girl, right there,” Putnam said, with protesters telling him to “have a good day” as he headed to his next stop.