The pitched GOP gubernatorial primary battle between Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam increasingly is pivoting on which campaign can malign the other side’s donors.
In Jacksonville Saturday morning, DeSantis devoted a lot of time to slamming the sugar industry, a position assumed after over $5 million was devoted to negative ads against the congressman when he got into the race.
The candidate vowed that he was “not going to be hamstrung by an interest group,” unlike Putnam, whom “one big company tells … what to do.”
“If they need all these subsidies, then why in heck are they spending all this money in politics,” DeSantis, who voted against sugar subsidies in Congress, asked rhetorically.
“They should have less subsidies and then not spend as much money,” DeSantis added.
On Monday, Putnam’s campaign spox Meredith Beatrice fired back with a rejoinder.
“Congressman DeSantis will say just about anything to voters these days. In true swamp creature fashion, he says one thing and does another.
“Florida-based companies and job creators obviously do not trust him, so Congressman DeSantis has surrounded himself with some very questionable company, like hush-money Elliott Broidy, money laundering Democrat Ahmad Khawaja and shady Victor Imber.”
Worth noting: The Florida Democratic Party has spotlighted Broidy’s interest in DeSantis for months. The former Republican National Committee finance chair and, more recently, vice-chair of finance, resigned from that role earlier this year.
After we contacted Putnam for comment, we received an email from Ardis Hammock, a sugarcane farmer who also is the spokeswoman for Florida Sugarcane Farmers.
“It’s truly a shame that Ron DeSantis has decided to attack hardworking Florida farmers in this governor’s race.
“Farming helps pay the bills and put food on the table for more than 1.6 million Florida families. It has a $160 billion economic impact to the state and provides food security for America.
“But none of this seems to matter to Ron DeSantis, who is clearly taking direction and money from far-left special interests who ultimately want to outsource Florida agriculture to Mexico,” Hammock said.
“Congressman DeSantis may claim to not take money from sugarcane farmers now, but he lost support from us in Florida’s heartland years ago,” Hammock added.
DeSantis’ campaign wouldn’t take the bait, continuing to hammer home the theme that Putnam is a particularly “transactional” politician.
“It’s an interesting tactic to double down on how much money he’s raised from special interests on the record, especially now that conservative voters had figured out he’s an transactional Republican with a long history of supporting amnesty, bailing out Wall Street, and voting with Nancy Pelosi,” DeSantis campaign manager Brad Herold said.
“But you have to admire the message discipline to keep repeating it even when down double digits,” he added.
Polls of the race are for now in DeSantis’ favor.
One new poll has DeSantis leading the race by a 42-30 margin, an indication that as the pool of undecided voters becomes more shallow, DeSantis’ support deepens.
The Putnam-supportive Florida Chamber has a poll that deems the race a dead heat, though the DeSantis camp asserts that poll doesn’t sample Trump voters, instead oversampling supervoters from pre-2016 samples.