Adam Putnam, Jeff Atwater Draw Little Opposition in Cabinet Races
Florida voters next month will decide if Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, two of the three members of the state Cabinet, should serve another four years.
But with the Republican incumbents comfortably ahead in fundraising and their challengers little known, the Florida Democratic Party appears to have all but conceded the races.
Thaddeus "Thad" Hamilton, 64, a U.S. Army veteran who spent 36 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, is making a second run against Putnam, a 40-year-old from Bartow who spent 10 years in Congress and is widely considered a leading gubernatorial candidate in 2018.
Meanwhile, William Rankin, 54, another U.S. Army veteran who describes himself as an international business consultant, is running against Atwater, a 56-year-old banker who served as Senate president in 2009 and 2010 and also could be in line for higher office in the future.
University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus said that besides a lack of name recognition, Hamilton and Rankin have been hindered by an inability to get serious party support. One reason is that state party leaders have focused on winning this year's governor's race.
The party has "been locked out for so long that they feel that if they can win that one (the governor's office), that the rest will fall in place, and then more candidates will be encouraged to run for statewide posts," MacManus said.
The Florida Democratic Party has not responded to questions about the Cabinet races.
Despite the advantages, Putnam said he isn't taking the race for granted.
"Florida is Florida, you put any major party candidate on the ballot and they're going to get 45 percent of the vote," Putnam said. "I got elected to Congress with my buddy Eric Cantor so I take all races seriously. There is no such thing as an easy race."
In June, Cantor, a Virginia Republican who at the time was the U.S. House majority leader, was defeated in a primary battle despite vastly outspending his challenger.
As of Oct. 3, Putnam had raised about $3.5 million through his campaign and two political committees, Sunshine State Leadership Project and SSLP.
Hamilton, from Sunrise, had raised $21,163 and loaned his campaign $13,140. He lists jobs and economic development, education, consumer protection, the environment and agriculture among his top priorities, which are mostly the outlines of the office.
Hamilton received 2 percent of the vote in 2010 when he ran as an independent. Putnam received 56 percent of the vote four years ago, while Democrat Scott Maddox got 38.1 percent.
Putnam, who is in the fifth generation of a cattle-ranching and citrus-growing family in Polk County, has started to run a TV ad that some say appears less a re-election spot than a look to his political future. The spot has Putnam contrasting positives of Florida with rules that come down from the federal government.
"I think maybe he's going to run for governor and he's got the money," MacManus said of Putnam's TV commercial.
Since getting elected agriculture commissioner, Putnam has promoted efforts to battle a disease impacting the citrus industry, as well as non-native species such as the destructive Giant African Land Snail. With his office also overseeing consumer services, Putnam has been involved in efforts such as pushing to rewrite rules to protect consumers from fraudulent and deceptive charities.
Like Putnam, Atwater has moved steadily up the ranks of Florida GOP politics. After serving in the House and getting elected to the Senate, Atwater became Senate president and then was elected statewide as chief financial officer.
In that role, Atwater has launched efforts to make state contracts more accessible to the public. Also, he has been involved in issues such as questioning why property insurance rates failed to fall in line with a drop in costs for reinsurance, which is a type of backup coverage for insurers.
Atwater, who is from North Palm Beach, had raised about $2.94 million as of Oct. 3 and received nearly $1 million through in-kind donations from the Republican Party of Florida.
Rankin, a former Republican from Deerfield Beach, wants to repeal a requirement that state workers make 3 percent pension contributions, which was approved by lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott. As of Oct. 10, Rankin had raised $17,630 for the race, while loaning $14,600 to his campaign.
Rankin lists among his priorities ensuring the rights of unions to collectively bargain and reversing a 2011 Cabinet decision that halted automatic restoration of civil and voting rights to certain ex-felons.