In an exchange focused more on national topics than challenges facing the next Florida governor, the two top Republican candidates to replace Gov. Rick Scott clashed in a televised debate Thursday over their support for President Donald Trump and immigration issues.
Early in the hour-long debate, which was broadcast to a national audience by Fox News, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis quickly turned to the key themes of their campaigns.
“I’m proud to have the endorsement of President Donald Trump in this race,” said DeSantis, a three-term congressman from Palm Coast, while responding to a question about the appointment of a new U.S. Supreme Court justice.
In a question about Trump’s upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putnam said he was proud to support Trump’s agenda, including negotiations with foreign leaders, tax cuts and efforts to improve the country’s trade policies.
“But I’m running a Florida first campaign. I care more about the schools in Washington County than what’s going on in Washington, D.C.,” said Putnam, who is also a former congressman and state lawmaker.
Putnam, who supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the presidential primary in 2016, was asked if he would endorse Trump in his 2020 re-election bid.
“Most assuredly. I look forward to campaigning with him as governor of Florida,” Putnam said.
But DeSantis shot back that it “would be the first time you ever campaigned with him,” noting the agriculture commissioner’s absence during Trump’s primary campaign in 2016.
“You couldn’t find Adam Putnam if you had a search warrant,” DeSantis said.
Both candidates, who will face off in the Aug. 28 primary, refused to blame Trump for the current negative tone of political discourse.
“He is under an attack like no president has faced,” DeSantis said. “The last thing I want to do is go up there and lob hand grenades at the president.”
“This method of incivility did not begin with President Trump. It is only reported by the left-wing media because they want to undermine our president and the conservative movement,” Putnam said.
DeSantis described immigration as a “big point of disagreement” between the candidates, while slamming Putnam on issues such as opposing the use of E-verify, a system to confirm the legality of workers. He said Putnam worked to kill an E-verify law being considered by the Legislature.
“I appreciate him saying he put Florida first. But he didn’t put Florida first there,” DeSantis said. “He put his big donors who want cheap foreign labor ahead of the interests of our citizens.”
Putnam said Florida employers “need a stable, legal workforce” but Washington has failed to come up with an immigration fix.
“Washington should do its job. They haven’t passed an immigration bill,” he said.
Asked if he still considered himself “a proud NRA sellout,” Putnam said he is “a proud supporter of the Second Amendment” and would not let “the left hijack this debate” in an effort to limit the gun rights of law-abiding citizens.
DeSantis blamed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in February on failures by local and federal officials. He said he would have fired the Broward County sheriff, and he said FBI agents who received information about the shooter prior to the incident should be fired.
Both candidates said they opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana in Florida but pledged to carry out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized the medical use of the drug.
Asked after the event if more questions should have focused on what would occur in Florida if either is elected, DeSantis said the choice of topics came from the moderators and then turned to his endorsement from Trump.
“I think that the fact that Trump has said, ‘Ron DeSantis is a brilliant leader, he would make a great governor, he’s tough on borders, he’s tough on crime.’ People look at that and say, ‘That’s a big, big deal.’ And so I think it’s just created more excitement, and, look, this race is dramatically different than it was a week-and-a-half ago,” DeSantis said.
In his post-debate response, Putnam said “if you want to be governor of Florida, you need to know Florida.”
“I don’t think there is any doubt that questions were very national issue-centric. And I took the opportunity to bring it right here to Florida,” Putnam said. “We’re here in Kissimmee. They kept calling it Orlando. We’re not even in the same county. If you know Florida, you know that.”
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, a state House member from Spring Hill, said the event was “passionate” and that both candidates “delivered on what they had to deliver.” And while he would have liked to have heard more Florida questions, he said the event was broadcast to a national audience.
“Fox News has an audience, and they delivered on that,” Ingoglia said. “We expect other debates where they’ll get down on more policy tailored for Florida.”
The debate, which was held at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Osceola County, was the first of what may be only two debates before the August primary.
DeSantis and Putnam are next scheduled to appear in an Aug. 8 debate that will be hosted by Jacksonville University and WJXT Channel 4 in Jacksonville.
–Jim Turner, Lloyd Dunkleberger, News Service of Florida
DeSantis and his co-conspirators are dangerous enemy combatants against the American People and Constitution who present a clear and present danger to our lives and liberties — treat them as such!
Rob Jr says
If they want to out trump each other.
They can start by admitting to being p***y grabbers.
Become a paper bag insult comic
Don’t just claim Nazis are fine people but put on a sheet when doing so.
Spout easily proved lies
Spew out bigotry.
Whoever does it the best will more than likely win the republican nomination.
Then it makes it easy. Vote Democrat.
We have to restore decency in this country and neighter one of them up to the job.
Laura Howell says
Neither of these guys give me the feeling that their primary interest would be Florida and it’s people. I’m done with these kind of guys.
There is no qualified democrat. They are all higher taxes, Amnesty, Open Borders, Santuary State progessives.
I never trusted DeSantis. He is my Congressman. So I have watched him closely. Says one thing then votes the opposite. Don’t like the idea mot of his campaign money is from thoe who don’t live in Florida. (42% from out of State)
I need more information on Putnam. Law Enforcement seems to like him. I like his idea of vocational high schools.
Apparently Florida is just a by product of the inconsistent and short sighted policies coming from the WH. Perhaps if both of these gentlemen kindly remove their collective heads from the south end of a north moving DT they might get a clue.
Rick G says
It doesn’t seem like these 2 care much about Florida. Perhaps if these 2 gentlemen could remove their collective heads out of DT’s backside they might get a clue.
Diana L says
“You couldn’t find Adam Putnam if you had a search warrant,” DeSantis said.” Ironic, that’s what DeSantis’s constituents say about him!
Two more fraudsters. I will be a still Rep voting Dem for Graham.
Has anyone noticed that, over the past 20-30 years political campaigns have gotten further and further away from “Here’s what I can/am/want to do for you” and become almost entirely “Yeah? Well HE/SHE did this, or HE/SHE won’t do this”?
Yes, I know mudslinging has always been a campaign tool, but it appears that it is the ONLY tool left in the candidates toolboxes anymore.
And it’s BOTH parties, not just one or the other.
I am very sorry to say that my opinion has come around to the belief that the two-party system is failing badly, and is leading us to the destruction of any semblance of a democratic (as in “relating to or supporting democracy or its principles”) society.
Apparently decency, honesty, and a true desire to help your constituency are now liabilities in politics. Making sure you score points by lambasting your opponents is the new normal. You don’t have to be good for the people, just claim that you’re not as bad as the ‘other guy’.
Gwen Graham or jeff greene are both 100x better candidates. They both look like robots.
Mike B says
That’s all we need, two more swamp people that should be drained. Enough is enough!
Rosie O'Donnell says
DeSantis is going to make Florida great again
Kudos to Coyote on this nonsense of bashing your opponent. This is what probably hurt Clinton as much as anything. All of her ads told of how bad Trump would be. While the ads were accurate, she should have at least said what she would do if elected. Hopefully our governor will be as successful as she since all his ads are about how bad Sen. Nelson is. Bill Nelson on the other hand runs ads telling what he has and will continue to do for Florida.
Hated in Mexico. Hated in Canada. Hated in Western Europe. Hated in Australia.
And hated by 50% of Americans.
Donald Trump….spreading sunshine and good cheer wherever he goes.
They like him in Moscow, though. There’s still that.
NO to DeSantis, a trump brown-noser who is one of the ‘gang’ agreeing with what everyone else said, as long as they are republicans. NO to Putnam, who I just found out was the Commissioner of the Florida agency responsible for granting concealed weapon permits which didn’t do background checks for over a year.
The reason: the staff couldn’t figure out how to log into the background check system.
The man running the agency, Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, claims that *only* a few hundred concealed carry permits fell into the wrong hands.”
I am not trying to turn people over to another new source, but I think they should go read the July 4th article on the DBNJ regarding DeSantis sucking up …. errrrr .. I mean supporting Trump. From the tone of the quotes there (and here), it appears that Putnam is trying to run as a Floridian, and DeSantis is trying to run as a Trumpeteer.
I would like to see a representative who REPRESENTS me and my fellow citizens of Florida, not one who owes his loyalty (and his job?) to a particular person. I am not sure if Putnam is that person, but I am d^%&ed sure that – by his own admission – DeSantis is NOT.
DeSantis never represented CD06, why would we think he would represent FL?
Keep Flagler Beautiful says
I voted for DeSantis last time around, but I was new to Florida and didn’t know much about any of the candidates. Since then, I’ve contacted DeSantis’ office, either by phone or email, on a few occasions to politely express support or opposition of an important issue — usually related to the protection of Florida’s wildlife, ocean or environment. Every time, I was treated in a manner that made me feel like I was a nobody whose opinion meant nothing. Then I’d receive an ambiguous follow-up letter that told me absolutely nothing about his stance on the issue — just the usual, “if it should come to a vote, I’ll keep your comments in mind.” Yeah, sure. I know when I’m being blown off. But all politicians do the very same thing. The point is, in the end there’s no one to vote for. They’re all in it for the same reason: to feather their own nests and set themselves up for a fat retirement. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Now might be a good time to remember that Felix Sater emailed the following to Michael Cohen: “Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”
Michael Cohen is a criminal.
Michael Flynn is a criminal.
Paul Manafort is a criminal.
Rick Gates is a criminal.
GOP — you could have stopped all of this long ago.
We’re coming for you in November.