For GOP's Good, Putnam Should Bow Out, Back DeSantis

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For GOP's Good, Putnam Should Bow Out, Back DeSantis
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Florida’s primaries are still three weeks away, but on the Republican side at least, the gubernatorial race is effectively over. Ron DeSantis has won over his party. 

This will be hard news to hear for Adam Putnam, DeSantis’ main rival. Putnam, twice elected commissioner of agriculture and before that a five-term congressman from the Sunshine State, was the early favorite and the establishment choice. He easily out-fundraised the rest of the field, and—as he is fond of noting—secured the endorsement of two-thirds of Florida’s sheriffs. 

But one endorsement he didn’t get may be the only one that matters. Donald Trump remains popular in Florida, and in June the president gave DeSantis his “full Endorsement” after hinting his support for him back in December.

DeSantis surged ahead of Putnam in the weeks following Trump’s endorsement and now leads by 11 percentage points in the RCP polling average. Also, after the president endorsed his campaign, DeSantis got the better of Putnam in a nationally televised debate, and has been drawing large, enthusiastic crowds on the campaign trail. Trump campaigned for him at a well-attended rally in Tampa on July 31

Putnam’s campaign, meanwhile, never seems to have gotten off the ground. After a year of campaigning and fundraising, Putnam was not able to build on the early base of support he enjoyed as an early candidate twice elected to statewide office.

It’s time for Adam Putnam to recognize that this wasn’t his moment. The sooner Florida Republicans unite behind DeSantis, the stronger he will be as he heads into the general election. The current leader on the Democratic side is Gwen Graham, daughter of former Florida governor and senator Bob Graham.

A Graham victory in November would put at risk the many successes of Gov. Rick Scott, but this race is also important for Republicans nationally. The next governor will have an important role in post-Census redistricting in 2020, and if the Republicans lose the governor’s race it will be portrayed in the press as an ominous bellwether for Trump in 2020.

Putnam need not light his hair on fire and go out in a blaze of glory, fighting to the bitter end in a GOP battle that can only serve to weaken the candidate most likely to face Graham in the fall.

By graciously suspending his campaign now, Putnam can conserve his political and financial capital for the future while genuinely, and selflessly, acting in the interests of his own party. Putnam is only 44 years old and has a long career in politics still ahead of him if he wants it. If Putnam drops out with class and dignity, Florida voters will remember it and thank him for it. But if he continues to run dishonest ads against DeSantis’ positions on immigration, the fair tax, Medicare and Social Security — voters will remember that too. 

Ron DeSantis has the proven leadership, experience, and political guts to keep Florida on the successful path chartered by Rick Scott. He is best equipped to work with President Trump to grow Florida’s economy, recover from the next natural disaster, and take seriously the problem of illegal immigration.

Sometimes in politics, it’s just not your time—no matter how many well-connected people tell you it is, how hard you’ve worked for it, or how much you want it. Adam Putnam is an impressive politician. And he can do the most good for his own party and his career by acknowledging the inevitable and helping to unite Florida Republicans behind his GOP opponent.

Steve Hantler is a retired auto industry executive.



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