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Adam Putnam's Path To Governor's Mansion Gets Derailed

Aug 29, 2018

Adam Putnam was seen as a rising star in Republican circles. But as WUSF's Steve Newborn reports, his path to the governor's mansion ran into a train conducted by President Donald Trump.

Putnam strolled confidentially to the stage of an historic Lakeland hotel less than 15 minutes after the polls closed Tuesday night. There, the man who had seemingly been on a fast track for governor announced something he's never had to say before.

"You've stood besides me in the highs. You've stood besides me in the lows," he told the crowd of about 100 people. "And you've stood besides me in the winding path between the two. And for that, I'm forever in your debt."

Until then, there had been few lows for the 44-year-old Putnam. His concession speech was a first - the Bartow citrus and cattle farmer had never lost a race in 22 years.

"This outcome ends something of an era in Florida Republican Party politics," said veteran political journalist William March.

He said many people who were familiar with Putnam knew he was aiming directly at Tallahassee.

"Adam Putnam has been on a trajectory toward the governor's mansion for well over a decade. And frankly, most of the Republicans in Florida expected that was where Putnam would end up going, as soon as his turn came up," March said. "Well, his turn came up this year, and suddenly his plans get completely upended by the involvement of Trump in this race."

The momentum had started to drift away from Putnam by the time the president said this at a rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in July.

"True, he's tough, he's smart and he loves our country. And he's going to be your next governor, Ron DeSantis," the president said to raucous cheers.

There had been a few bumps in the road for Putnam. His declaration that he was a "proud NRA sellout" came under attack after the Parkland school shootings. And investigations showing that many applications for concealed weapons permits were never vetted took off some of his gloss. But March says it was the Trump endorsement that carried the most weight with Republican voters.

"It shows how completely Trump has taken over and dominated not only the national Republican Party, but the Florida Republican Party," March said, "and remade it in his image. It's now the Trump Party of Florida."

Back at a somewhat subdued election watch party at a historic hotel in Lakeland Tuesday night, Jim and Gina Mammel of Lakeland said that didn't sway all the voters.

"I think people who know Adam and know his credentials are going to say that was disappointing. At the same time, I think there's been enough controversy with this president that you don't necessarily want to have his endorsement," she said. Added Jim Mammel: "I don't know if that's the most important thing right now."

Gina Mammel of Lakeland shows her supporter
Credit Daylina Miller / WUSF Public Media

Gina Mammel is a longtime friend of Putnam's wife, Melissa.  She wore a T-shirt reading "Day One Adam Putnam Supporter." The couple says the book isn't closed on Putnam's political career.

"He has a servant's heart and he is a born leader. And if not governor, he'd make a good Senator in the future," they said.

Political scientist Susan MacManus agreed, saying we probably haven't seen the last of Putnam.

"It is getting more and more difficult to run for office, with the amount of money it takes," she said. "And the negativism that sticks to your family - and he's a family man - and that's what's making it hard for people to run for office. But he has a long history of public service - maybe not in elective service - but I think that he'll still be a public servant."

Putnam said during his concession speech that "whenever one door closes, another door opens." And at the young political age of 44, he has a lot of time to veer onto the comeback trail.

Here's a timeline of Putnam's political career, courtesy of Wikipedia: