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'Florida Connection' Will Define The Republican Candidate For Governor, Says Political Analyst

Aug 24, 2018
Originally published on August 24, 2018 8:06 am

A recent Florida Atlantic University poll has Congressman Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in a virtual tie in the race to be the Republican candidate for Florida's governor, but 22 percent of Republican voters remain undecided.

The candidates have similar stances on abortion, President Donald Trump and immigration. DeSantis has been endorsed by the president, while Putnam has the endorsement of Florida's Attorney General Pam Bondi, nearly four dozen Tampa Bay sheriffs, and the powerful agriculture lobby.

On Sundial, political analyst Susan A. MacManus said the Republican Gubernatorial candidates will have to prove they have a strong connection to Florida in order win the primary. 

Note: Both Republican candidates have declined repeated requests for interviews.

WLRN: Let's start with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. He's received the endorsement of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. He's been in office most of his adult life. What can you tell us about him?

MacManus: He comes from Polk County and his family has long been in citrus and also in cattle, which is a very characteristic agricultural background for this part of the state. He's fifth generation Floridian and went to the University of Florida where he was president of the agricultural fraternity. He has these longstanding ties to AG. This made him a shoe-in when he ran for Agricultural Commissioner position the first time. He is very popular with the agricultural industry. He was really young, 22 years old when he got into the Florida legislature.

What was significant about his time in Tallahassee?

Again, his support of AG, he was well-spoken and very policy oriented.

Did he have anything that stood out for him and any significant accomplishment while he was in D.C.?

He elevated his ability to articulate both sides of issues and not automatically alienate one ideological end of his party. One thing about Adam Putnam is his whole mantra of Florida first is consistent with his whole background of service. One of the challenges that he's facing is that this year seems to be one where longevity in office is not the best thing going for you in terms of what the public is looking for.

All right let's take a look at his opponent Congressman Ron DeSantis. He ran for Marco Rubio's seat until Rubio decided to just go back and rerun for it. He joined Congress in 2013. What's been his claim to fame in D.C.?

He was of course the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus. He's known as a very ideological, constitutional, stringent conservative. If you look at some of the ads that he's run on television recently he touts the fact that he wrote and voted against a congressional pay raise and that he was for more transparency in the sexual harassment claims. He's been more pro-environment and anti-sugar, which of course is one of the complaints he launches against Putnam. His claim to fame is really the fact that he became the darling of Fox News Channel. He is on repeatedly and has gotten millions of dollars worth of free media. One of the reasons he's elevated in the polls is because he was brought on as a defender of Trump and has still remained that way even in spite of the claims and the legal problems of people around Trump. DeSantis has never wavered from being pro-Trump.

What do we know about his military background?

Not a lot but it is something that resonates very well with Republicans and in Florida. The state of course has one of the largest military retiree constituencies in the country and a lot of active duty people. The fact that he really touts his military background in his television ads is not surprising ... in fact it's very shrewd politics.

Are the candidates more similar or vastly different when it comes to policy? Do you get the sense this run is more about the character or is it about who's got that connection to Florida more?

It is definitely about the Florida connection. Putnam is running in a very traditional grassroots campaign and one of the things that he's counting on next Tuesday is the fact that he spent the last eight years repeatedly going all over this state and visiting local county Republican committees. He says those are high turnout voters. DeSantis is arguing just the opposite. He says the Republican Party has changed, that Trump is the catalyst and that the president brought new people into the party. DeSantis is counting on the fact that he can get these Trump voters that normally don't vote in a midterm to actually turn out.

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