TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — New polling this week shows Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam leads the Republican field of candidates for governor, nine months before the election.
“Being number one right now is kind of like being ranked first in the preseason: it feels good but it’s not worth a hoot,” Putnam said with a chuckle. “But I love where we stand in terms of the grassroots.”
Putnam holds a 4-point lead over Rep. Ron DeSantis of Daytona Beach in the latest Mason-Dixon poll. DeSantis was endorsed by President Trump in December and has been gaining on Putnam since officially announcing his candidacy in early January.
In an interview with News Channel 8, Putnam said DeSantis tried to put some distance ideologically between himself and the man expected to pull him to the right.
“He’s very Washington-focused,” said Putnam. “And the issues facing Florida are critically important to our state. Washington’s not gonna fix our problems. My number one priority is putting vocational and technical education back into our middle schools, our high schools, and supporting our state colleges where we’re gonna rebuild the middle class.”
“We’re gonna bring higher-paying jobs to Florida. Washington can’t solve that problem,” Putnam added. “In fact, we’ve seen examples where on issues important to Floridians, he just doesn’t understand what they’re facing.”
Putnam comes from a prominent Polk County farming family, and has been in service most of his adult life. He was 22 when he became the youngest person ever elected to the Florida legislature in 1996. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives four years later, serving for 10 years.
On immigration, Putnam has taken some heat from the more conservative wing of his party. In 2003 while serving as a congressman, he co-sponsored a bill that would have created a path to permanent residency for illegal immigrants who worked here for three years. There are varying definitions of amnesty, but that past is likely to be challenged by DeSantis and other immigration hard-liners in the primary.
This week on Politics On Your Side, Putnam clarified his stance on immigration.
“First of all, we have to secure our borders,” Putnam said. “We have to reform the legal immigration system. And I don’t think Florida ought to have sanctuary cities. I believe that puts me squarely in the camp of the vast majority of Floridians. We can’t have two sets of laws.”
Putnam said he supported the southern border wall, calling it “a very important part of border security, as are highly-trained and sufficient numbers of border patrol agents.”
“And technology – if we can read a license plate in the mountains of Afghanistan from space, we ought to be able to use technology on our borders,” he added.
With regard to DACA and the 800,000-plus people brought to the U.S. as children of illegal immigrants – Putnam aligned himself with the president.
“When you look at the ‘Dreamers’, and there are tens of thousands of them here in Florida, they were brought here by the decision of their parents, not themselves,” Putnam said. “I think that what President Trump laid out is a balanced approach: border security, getting rid of the visa lottery system, reforming chain migration and offering that long-term solution for those ‘Dreamers’ so that we can solve it once and for all, instead of having yet another wave that has to be dealt with in two years.”
Putnam is a popular “hometown” politician on the right with a lot of name recognition, but it remains to be seen what the impact of President Trump’s first two years in office will be on the midterm elections. That impact is likely to affect the governor’s race as well as the race for the Senate seat held by Bill Nelson.
Which way Florida goes, at this point, is anyone’s guess.