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Joe Henderson: The “real” Adam Putnam shows up, but too late?

In the final days of his campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor, Adam Putnam has come across as the person a lot of people always thought he was.

It’s too bad he kept that person hidden for so long.

His ads now are low-key and sincere, a departure from the strident tone he set at the start and stayed with for far too long.

He is back to being the kind of person you’d like to have live next door: Friendly, smart, can dominate a room without being overbearing.

But, somewhere early in the campaign, that guy got put on the shelf. The reasoned, principled conservative was replaced by a shrill imposter who left people shaking their heads and wondering what happened to the man they knew.

Maybe Florida’s wacky primary system convinced Putnam he had to show that he, too, could be just as loud as the next guy to appeal to the hardcore Republican voters, those most likely to turn out for a primary election.

It wasn’t enough to say he supported the Second Amendment and leave it at that, he had to shout that he was a “proud NRA sellout.”

Likeability was always a major strength for Putnam by people from both political parties. But for months, he routinely blathered on about the “liberal media” and came across as a divider, not someone interested in uniting.

He couldn’t just shrug and say he still supports the policies of Donald Trump even after the president endorsed Fox News darling Ron DeSantis.

He had to keep tilting at that windmill with ill-advised Twitter messages like the one where he welcomed the president to a recent rally in Tampa – only to have Trump refer to DeSantis that night as “a true leader, a proud veteran, my great friend, a tough, brilliant cookie.”

He looked desperate.

Now, DeSantis has a 23-point lead in the final St. Pete Polls survey, and Putnam is facing the possible end of his political career after Tuesday’s primary.

Yes, it’s legitimate to say it might not have made any difference what kind of campaign Putnam ran, given Trump’s support of DeSantis. Trump likes DeSantis because, as a member of the U.S. House, he was critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of the president.

As Putnam learned, that’s all a lot of voters needed to hear.

The harder Putnam chased those voters, the farther away he seemed to be from the person that people thought they knew. Did that scare off undecided voters?


Add the outcry over donations his campaign received from Publix in the wake of the Parkland slaughter, followed by revelations that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which Putnam currently leads, mishandled thousands of concealed weapons permit applications.

All the while, DeSantis was doing his best Aaron Burr impression from the musical “Hamilton”: Not saying much, smiling a lot, and riding that Trump endorsement to build what looks like an insurmountable lead for the nomination – potentially turning the general election into a statewide referendum on the president and his policies.

Trump does have strong support in many pockets of Florida. But in many ways, Adam Putnam is Florida.

He’s a small-town guy from Bartow.

He is a Gator.

He represented his district in Congress.

He knows how state government works.

And I really do think that if a miracle happens and he wins the primary, we would see a much different candidate in the general election.

I’ll bet on some level, many Democrats would concede that they are happy to take their chances against DeSantis because Putnam would have been formidable.

We’re getting a glimpse of that candidate now. He is working the room, so to speak – shaking every hand, making every person he meets feel like they’re important and he understands their needs and concerns. He is not surrendering; give him that much.

Did that candidate show up too late? Even if he had, would it have made a difference against the Tweeter-in-Chief?

Maybe not. But at least it would have been the real Adam Putnam.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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