Former foes Adam Putnam and Richard Corcoran began a public bromance this week, with Corcoran clearing the deck for the agriculture commissioner in what will now largely be a two-man Republican primary for governor.
But in contrast to the lovey-dovey development in GOP-land, the situation took a decidedly nasty turn on the other side of the aisle in the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Rick Scott.
Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and her supporters launched a two-day offensive against one of her primary opponents, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, in response to an attack ad released by The Collective Super PAC, a group that backs black candidates, including Gillum.
The Collective is spending upwards of $700,000 on the ad, which is running on West Palm Beach television stations and South Florida cable networks and is clearly targeted toward Democratic base voters.
The 30-second spot slams Graham’s voting record during her short stint in Congress, where she “voted against President Obama 52 percent of the time,” backed the Keystone Pipeline, sided “with the big banks” and “trashed” Obamacare.
“Gwen Graham is not the progressive she claims to be,” the voiceover warns.
Graham’s campaign shop went into overdrive in response to what appears to be the first negative ad in the Democratic primary, going ballistic on social media and issuing numerous press releases expressing outrage from a slew of surrogates who joined the former congresswoman’s demand that Gillum order the ad be taken down.
“I am disgusted that Andrew Gillum would allow a secret-money group to run a false attack against a fellow Democrat,” Graham said in one of more than a dozen email responses to the ad.
Instead of backing down, Gillum’s camp doubled-down, accusing Graham of relying on super-PAC sustenance during her congressional bid four years ago.
“It’s hypocritical for the Graham campaign to denounce outside spending and now call it ‘dark money’ when it doesn’t benefit her like it did in 2014. Her ‘very conservative’ record is on full display, and this campaign should be about her record against the mayor’s record,” Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan said in a statement.
I LOVE YOU, MAN
The Collective has pledged to spend over $1.5 million to help Gillum become Florida’s first black governor, which means the throwdown over the “52 percent” ad is likely just a taste of what’s to come this summer.
While it’s certain that the Dems won’t be the only ones slinging slime before the August primary election, Putnam now has one less mud-thrower to duck after winning the support of Corcoran, the House speaker who had toyed with the idea of entering the GOP gubernatorial primary before walking away this week.
Proving once again it’s all about the Benjamins, Corcoran blamed his exit from the race he never officially joined on a lack of greenbacks.
“Florida is an expensive state. It costs a lot of money to run,” Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, said during an appearance Wednesday with Putnam in Tallahassee.
Through the end of March, Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC political committee had raised $6.86 million and spent $4.6 million, with $3.7 million spent in the first three months of this year. Despite the spending, which included a controversial television ad on so-called “sanctuary cities,” Corcoran never gained much traction in the GOP race with Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Palm Coast.
Corcoran said he would adhere to his pledge to either run for governor “or go home,” ruling out a move to another statewide race, such as the contest for attorney general. He also said he would not serve as Putnam’s lieutenant governor if asked to join the ticket.
“I’ve passionately said for the last year that I was going to run for governor or go home. And I’m proud to say that that decision is clearly that we’re going home,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran said he decided to endorse Putnam because he believes the two-term state Cabinet member will continue and extend the conservative legacy of the Scott administration, including on tax cuts and educational reforms.
“Adam is sincere. He is authentic. He is principled. He is passionate. He loves this state,” Corcoran said.
Putnam welcomed Corcoran’s backing.
“To have the endorsement, to have the support of someone who knows Florida so well and is so passionate about Florida’s future and is such a principled conservative means everything in the world to me,” Putnam said.
But signaling a contentious Aug. 28 primary, the DeSantis campaign characterized the endorsement as an “insider” deal between two long-time members of the Tallahassee establishment, noting Corcoran and Putnam have disagreed on issues, including immigration.
"Career politician, Adam Putnam, will now get the two-man race he's been fearing for a year,” DeSantis spokesman David Vasquez said in a statement. “A conservative Iraq veteran (DeSantis) endorsed by Donald Trump versus a ‘Never Trump’ career politician who supported amnesty for illegal aliens. We like our odds.”
WAR ON DRUGS … TREATMENT
Some lawmakers were stunned to learn that Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones is slicing substance-abuse programs for prisoners in the midst of an opioid crisis gripping Florida and the nation.
But the raised eyebrows won’t translate into action, at least not right now.
House and Senate leaders said this week they don’t have any plans to plug a $28 million budget gap at the corrections agency that sparked Jones’s decision.
Jones announced last week she is slashing contracts with nearly three dozen substance-abuse and re-entry providers --- programs considered integral to reducing recidivism and helping inmates transition back into society --- by at least 40 percent because the money is needed to cover the cost of a contract for prison health services.
“What I would encourage our partners who are facing these cuts to do is to double-down on their efforts to find efficiencies and understand that, when we return in November, this is going to be something that many of us are eager to address,” Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said in an interview Thursday.
After the November elections, lawmakers will begin working to prepare next year’s budget.
Jones said the cuts, which are already being implemented in time for the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, were necessary because lawmakers did not fully fund the corrections agency, which is running about $80 million in the red.
The reductions sparked an outcry from providers, who could be forced to lay off 600 employees, according to Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association Executive Director Mark Fontaine.
“The contracted substance-abuse funding is only 1.5 percent of the department’s $2.4 billion budget. Hard to believe there aren’t other options available,” Fontaine said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Throwing his support behind Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, announced he will not run for governor.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I don’t think we had the resources to move forward.” --- House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, announcing he is staying out of the governor’s race.