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Adam Putnam, Ron DeSantis Clash in First GOP Gubernatorial Debate

June 28, 2018 - 8:00pm
Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis
Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis

On Thursday night, at a debate held by the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) and broadcast across the country on Fox News, the two leading candidates for the GOP gubernatorial nomination clashed.

The sparks flew as Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla,, met in the debate in Orlando. With two months to go until the primary, polls show Putnam ahead of DeSantis but almost half of Florida Republicans remain on the fence.

Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier from Fox News moderated the debate which often dealt more with national instead of state issues. 

Both Republican candidates stressed their conservatism and tried to appeal to Florida Republicans. DeSantis continually reminded the audience that he had the support of President Donald Trump while Putnam attempted to contrast his experience in Tallahassee with his opponent’s time in Congress.

Putnam jabbed DeSanits early noting the environment was “completely different than a Washington D.C. studio and I just want to say welcome to Florida congressman.” At the start of the debate, Putnam welcomed the news that Justice Anthony Kennedy was leaving the U.S. Supreme Court and welcomed Trump picking a replacement. 

“I am thrilled, I am thrilled that President Trump has a second opportunity to remake the U.S. Supreme Court with a constitutionalist justice.  This is going to be exciting for decades to come.  We look forward to seeing who it is.  It will be -- if they are near as good as Justice Gorsuch has been, it's an exciting time for America,” Putnam said before stressing his pro-life credentials. 

“I’ve said I would sign the heart beat bill.  Yes, we need a constitutionalist on the bench, someone who is not going to try and make law from the bench, but someone who will abide by our Constitution and protect and defend life,” Putnam said. “We should have a strict constitutionalist on the bench, someone who recognizes the individual rights in this country, someone who also recognizes that our founders intended that you defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I’m honored to have the support of the Florida Family Action Council in the governor's race here in Florida, because they know that as governor, I will pursue a pro-life agenda here in Florida as Florida's next governor.”

DeSantis also insisted he backed social conservatism and was pro-life. 

“I’m proud to have the endorsement of President Donald Trump in this race,” DeSantis said. “And I think that Donald Trump has done a better job of appointing judges to both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Appeals Court than any other president in my lifetime, including one of my heroes, Ronald Reagan.  So, God bless Donald Trump for doing that. And I think the opportunity to replace Justice Kennedy is really a historic opportunity.  It should be a constitutionalist in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas who understands the proper role of the court is to apply the law and Constitution as it’s actually written, not to legislate from the bench, not to impose a judge's philosophy on the rest of the country.  

“And I say there’s an analog here in Florida,” DeSantis added. “The next governor in all likelihood is going to have three appointments to our state supreme court, which is a historically liberal court. They’re activists. They legislate from the bench.  I can tell you this, I am best position to identify those candidates for nomination to the state supreme court who are going to apply the law faithfully and will not be judicial activists.  If we get it right, we can end judicial activism in Florida for a generation.  "

Both candidates tried to embrace Trump but DeSantis insisted Putnam stood in the president’s way back in 2016. Putnam tried to reassure Republicans that he had Trump’s back. 

"Democrats want to hijack Florida," said Putnam. "They have their eye on taking down President Trump in 2020, and that won’t happen on my watch."

“When Donald Trump was trying to win Florida in 2016, Adam Putnam did not attend a single rally with him,” DeSantis insisted. “You couldn’t find Adam Putnam if you had a search warrant.”

DeSantis also stressed that he had Trump’s support and looked to showcase his conservative credentials on immigration. 

“There are not going to be any sanctuary cities in the state of Florida,” DeSantis vowed if he was elected, adding he would remove officials who set up sanctuary cities. He also insisted Putnam backed amnesty supported by the Obama administration. 

“Washington should do its job,” Putnam fired back. “You have to have an immigration fix that meets the needs of this economy.”

"Washington is not going to solve our problems," said Putnam. "We need someone who knows Florida best and will put Florida first."

As the debate turned to gun control, Putnam stressed that he was a “proud” supporter of the Second Amendment and insisted the left was trying to undermine it. “We must not let the left hijack this debate,” Putnam said. 

“If I was governor, I would not have signed gun control,” DeSantis said before ripping into the FBI and Broward County. “The lack of accountability is what puts our people at risk.”

Both candidates called for Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to be dismissed for his handling of the Parkland school shooting and weigh in school shootings. 

“It is critically important that we defend our rights and protect our students in the schools,” Putnam said. “Those two things are not incompatible.”

“My wife and I have two young kids under the age of two,” DeSantis noted. “The thought that someone would come and shoot them fills me with rage.”

DeSantis insisted Putnam “covered up” the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services allowed loopholes for concealed carry applications. Putnam insisted he handled the matter and noted he had the backing of police officers.

“Law enforcement my camp,” Putnam said, reminding the audience he had the support of 45 sheriffs across the state. 

The debate then turned to trade policy. DeSantis praised Trump’s dealmaking abilities but noted that “international trade” was important to Florida and noted that he helped bring funds to improve Jacksonville’s port. Putnam ripped China and Mexico, insisting they had been waging a trade war on the U.S. for decades which has hurt Florida agriculture. 

As the moderators turned to entitlements, Putnam ripped into expanding Medicaid under former President Barack Obama’s health-care law. Noting that Medicaid was a third of the state budget, Putnam said Florida had to get it under control.  

“It is the Pac Man gobbling up the Florida budget,” Putnam said, adding he would support mandatory work for Medicaid. 

As the moderators began a lightning round, DeSantis and Putnam both stressed they would appeal to Puerto Rican voters. Turning to marijuana, DeSantis said he opposed bring recreational marijuana to Florida but said it should be a state issue. Putnam also opposed recreational marijuana but both candidates said they backed medical marijuana.

Calling himself a “principled and proven conservative,” DeSantis closed by noting he had Trump’s support and saying he would follow Gov. Rick Scott’s model. He ripped “insiders in Tallahassee” who backed Putnam and insisting they could not be trust, pointing to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s tenure in office as an example of it.  

Putnam noted that he knew the state very well. “The governor of Florida is....a prize but you must be present to win,” he said, trying to contrast himself with DeSanits. “I will always put Florida first.”

Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo weighed in after the debate and ripped both Republicans. 

“After tonight’s debate, I’ve never been more confident that Democrats will retake the Governor’s Mansion in November​.​ This debate was a right-wing circus brought to you by Fox News and inspired by Donald Trump. Before a nationwide audience, Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis made clear that they only have one message: Trump, Trump, Trump,” Rizzo said. 

"Both DeSantis and Putnam failed to substantively discuss issues ​they will have to address as governor of Florida​ — like public education — and instead focused on divisive and demagogic rhetoric,” Rizzo added. “In stark contrast to the Republican gubernatorial campaigns, Florida Democrats are standing up for public education, affordable healthcare, and an economy that works for everyone of us — and that’s why we are confident of victory in November.”


When in Congress, Putnam voted for the horrible No Child Left Behind that started the test and punish craze and led to Common Core. DeSantis was wise enough to vote against the NCLB replacement called the Every Student Succeeds Act that cements Common Core into federal law and harms the Opt Out movement. Even though education was not mentioned, DeSantis stated that he would fight Common Core.

Both men are outstanding Governorship candidates. Each has their own view of Florida and its place in the country and the world I think. Both rightly support President Trump's agenda that is catapulting Florida and the country into a level of prosperity not seen for so many years that many people are too young to even know what this country is capable of producing. Both viewpoints are needed to make sure Florida remains on the fantastic path Gov Scott leaves us moving forward. Whoever wins the Republican nomination will completely overwhelm the dummycrats nominee come November. If we can have both Putman and DeSantis at the helm as governor and lieutenant governor, that would be ideal. Thanks to both men for their outstanding integrity and obvious love of Florida and the great US of A.

An endorsement by Trump right now is the kiss of death... 16% pts. down means it is basically over, problem is Putnam has had so much controversy lately with Guns, Mosaic spills, algae blooms, etc. etc. He is an easy target against the Dems. One thing is for sure, it is going to be interesting this year in politics

safe questions and more geared to make DeSantis look better. He is their boy at FoxSpews.... I don't think either one gave us an indication of how they would be different than the status quo, which frankly is not working for me, I love how MSNBC broke things down, they were focused on Florida issues and their lack of addressing them in this debate, 43rd in education, 46th in wages, a lot of environmental issues (algae blooms, red tide, Mosaic, pythons, alligators, panthers almost gone. We'd really like to see something different, but not facist like Trump...

This debate has solidified my support for Putnam. I want to have a Florida oriented governor. DeSantis seems to be pushing the national hot buttons.

A fine pair of climate deniers! It's 1959 all over again, and what's good for Big Oil is good for you!

Both appear to be For Florida, I know for sure Putnam is against the Coastal Connector through Marion NW area of the county. If you don't know about this plan Now for DeSantis, I don't know his position on this.... So far my vote is leaning to Putnam... this project needs to be stopped.

Well , the good news is that the R’s have two very fine candidates ( aka ‘a strong talent bench ‘). Putnam is Florida First , has a great organization, has diligently worked every County, is talking about nitty gritty Florida issues ( like the need for more skilled tradesmen, as 2/3’s of the jobs available in Florida do not require a college degree , and a skilled aluminum welder makes 2x or 3x what a liberal arts grad who becomes a counselor / teacher or community organizer makes ) and will be a fine choice , if elected . DeSantis is also impressive, and we should be proud that our State can offer high quality choices ( as opposed to putting up some yahoo like Roy Moore and another equally unqualified D , whose main claim was that he was not Roy Moore , as the less fortunate Alabama voters were Moore or less - pardon the pun - forced to choose among .). The question is whether DeSantis’s shiny Washington Air Force can win against Putnam’s ground game ( troops + homework)..? DeSantis can call in his big gun - the Trump B-52 , and when the proverbial bomb doors open , a Trump tweet will rain down on us Florida voters - but my money is still on Putnam’s ‘ Florida campaign, as they have worked harder , longer and currently ‘own’ the ground. Both candidates performed well and should have very bright futures ,regardless .

I considered the debate a "draw" (more or less); I STILL believe (at this politically polarized 'moment in time') that both of these men have "Florida's best interests" in mind... "Florida Son" DeSantis for Governor, and "Florida Son" Putnam for Lieutenant Governor; and the NEXT decade will be *the sky's the limit* for BOTH of these two men...(as well as for Florida)... THIS is a unique opportune moment for Florida.

You're the only one doing any butt polishing fat boy... Take your fat can back to NY and get a job butt pirate...

i hope that since Trump has endorsed Rick Scott for Senate, and Ron DeSantis for Governor that Rick Scott will complete the circle and endorse DeSantis, too.


The thing that has me concerned about DeSantis is that he's moving backwards. Historically the career path has been from the State Legislature to Congressman or from Governor to Congressman not vice-versa. Then you spend several years up in DC and retire with one of the fattest pensions in the land. Logically at least for me a red light comes on when a young healthy man wants to take a voluntary demotion after only 5 years on the job. What's DeSantis game? That's what's behind the general bad gut feeling I get concerning DeSantis. I think other voters likely are logically feeling the same - that something is just not right about the man. Has anyone heard DeSantis offer any explanation for why he wishes to take what on the surface seems a demotion? I'll be voting Putnam who is trying to make a forward and logical career move if DeSantis can not offer up a logical explanation of why he's so hot for a career demotion.

Did you feel that Adam Putnam went backwards when he left the Congress to run for Ag Secretary? Was that a demotion too? Is that your best argument for voting for Putnam? It seems to me that governor is a higher position than Ag commissioner.

Not surprising after *** years in Washington perfecting his policy and conservative chops to want to stay home and help his state and country.

DeSantis now needs to get some hands on experience of running a big economy. Governors have been elected as President of the United States....think Bill Clinton. I think this is his and the party's goal down the road.

You are the only person who thinks a congressman outranks a governor.

Putnam is a career politician, whose rich daddy is trying to buy the Governor's seat. In 2016, Putnam did NOT support Trump because his whole family is owned and owns Jeb Bush.PUtnam and his Daddy have used his political career to enrich the family and friends through the State of Florida Family Lands program. Putnam and his family have fought all attempts to turn the tide n illegal immigration because they, and their main patrons, the agriculture interests in the US are addicted to Illegal Aliens to work their ranches and farms. ONly Ron DeSantis can help turn that tide in Florida. That is why the RINO establishment does not like him and why Trump endorsed him.

Adam Putnam knows Florida. Ron DeSantis knows Donald Trump

DeSantis knows DC, Florida and Trump. No bad credentials. Trump knows what he is doing so I am an "Always Trump" guy.

Ron DeSantis was born and raised in FL and only left to join the military. DeSantis knows Florida too . .. he lives in Washington part time now because he is in Congress, but his full time address is in FL and his family lives in FL. Putnam knows that . . .he's just trying to find something to criticize DeSantis . . . .sorry Adam, that boat doesn't float.

Yes, Putnam knows every trick on who to loot from the people of Florida. He is Charlie Crist in bad makeup.

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