JACKSONVILLE, Florida – With just over a month to go until Florida Republicans vote to select their nominee for the governor’s race, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is pulling ahead of Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, according to recent polling data.
Past polling showed DeSantis trailing Putnam by a wide margin. One poll from June 21, conducted by Fox News, had DeSantis down by 15 points.
This month’s polling, however, shows the trend is decidedly in DeSantis’ favor. A survey from Remington Research conducted July 2-5 has DeSantis up 17 points. Another survey conducted by pollster Tony Fabrizio has DeSantis up 12 points.
According to the Real Clear Politics polling average, which includes the Fox News poll showing Putnam with a double-digit lead, DeSantis has a 2.7 percent edge over Putnam as it stands now.
At a campaign meet-and-greet–with a visibly pro-Donald Trump vibe–just south of downtown Jacksonville on Saturday morning, DeSantis offered Breitbart News his reasons for the surge.
“I think it’s a number of things,” he said. “I think it’s a strong contrast between me and my opponent. Adam Putnam is a career politician. He’s been in office since he was 22, and he’s been an insider transactional Republican. I’m somebody who is an Iraq veteran, a military officer – somebody who has really fought entrenched interests and has stood on principle. Those records are clear.”
“He was somebody that was very hostile to Trump down the stretch against Hillary Clinton, and if he had his way, Hillary would have won,” DeSantis added. “I’m somebody that’s been endorsed by the president, so it’s a big contrast.”
Trump has voiced his support for DeSantis on two occasions and going back as far as last December.
Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida. Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes – Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2018
Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2017
And it is not hard to see why DeSantis has the Trump endorsement. As DeSantis elaborated Saturday, on many of the issues of the day Trump has DeSantis’ support.
Some Republican governors in states that went for Trump in the 2016 presidential election have raised concerns about Trump’s willingness to levy tariffs on trade partners to gain leverage.
Among those are current Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is vying to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) this November.
However, DeSantis said he sees Trump’s efforts as temporary and as a negotiating tactic.
“What he’s doing is part of ‘Art of the Deal,’” DeSantis explained. “He’s trying to use whatever leverage we have to negotiate better terms. I think he’s somebody that has shown there’s a method to what he’s doing. He’s said he doesn’t just want to see higher tariffs across the board. He wants to use this to be able to get better access to markets. That’s the key. I think some of the Europeans are going to fold soon on some of this stuff. I think he’s going to rack up some wins here shortly. If it’s not working out, the president is very pragmatic. He’s very nimble. He’ll change course. I don’t support having higher tariffs infinitum, and he doesn’t support having higher tariffs infinitum.”
Throughout Florida’s 10 media markets, Putnam has run a series of TV spots featuring different Florida sheriffs touting his immigration bona fides.
However, DeSantis insists Putnam is weak on the issue given he has opposed implementing E-Verify on the state level in Florida.
“You can enact E-Verify in Florida,” he said. “We had a chance to do that. It was pending in the State Senate. It was a very close vote. Adam Putnam as ag commissioner twisted arms to kill E-Verify because his donors want cheap foreign labor. I would sign E-Verify because if you had E-Verify, you’re protecting taxpayers. You’re rewarding the rule of law. And that’s probably the number one thing you can do to stop illegal immigration because you’re removing the number-one carrot. And it will lead to rising wages for blue-collar workers. So that to me is the easier thing you do right of off of bat.”
The Florida Republican also argues Putnam was vulnerable on his opposition to sanctuary cities, given his loyalties to industries reliant on cheap immigrant labor.
“The other thing is you have sanctuary cities,” DeSantis added. “The Democrats all want to use sanctuary cities. Adam Putnam says he’s opposed to sanctuary cities but expecting Adam Putnam fight sanctuary cities is like expecting the fox to guard the hen house. The fact of the matter is his donors are going to want sanctuary cities because that will help protect their supply of cheap labor. I will make sure there are no sanctuary cities in Florida. That’s without question.”
‘Big Sugar’ and the toxic algae
One significant issue plaguing coastlines in South and Southwest Florida has been toxic algae blooms. They are fueled by phosphorus and nitrogen runoff from farms inland in Florida that has drained into Lake Okeechobee and out from the Caloosahatchee River; flowing west into the Gulf of Mexico and St. Lucie River flowing east into the Atlantic Ocean.
According to DeSantis, if that pollution were drained to a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, those toxic algae blooms could be prevented.
“What they do is they pollute the water, and when the water rises in Lake Okeechobee, the Army Corps discharges it because they don’t want to have flooding,” he said. “They discharge it into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. Well, that ends up causing a lot of this toxic algae. What you need to do – we’re working on this reservoir south of the lake. You need to the water, clean it and send it south of the lake to the Everglades. That’s how naturally it’s supposed to go. You’re bit discharging the stuff into those estuaries. And you know, if you do that — that’s obviously better for the communities in Southwest Florida and the Treasure Coast. But it will help restore the Everglades. It will help restore water to Florida Bay as well.”
DeSantis touted efforts by the federal government but warned Putnam might oppose them if they conflict with the interests of “Big Sugar,” a term used to describe the powerful lobby in Florida that works to promote the interests of sugarcane growers.
“I think we’re moving in the direction with the reservoir,” he said. “We got the federal component in the WRDA [Water Resources Development Act] bill. That’s going to end up passing in WRDA. But if Adam Putnam is governor, what his tune is – is Big Sugar. If they tell him they don’t want him to do something, he’s not. I mean, he’s going to defend that. When you let one company just get everything they want, and then the rest of Florida just has to pick up the pieces, that’s not good policy.”
Offshore Drilling: The third-rail of Florida politics
Another big hot-button issue for Floridians is whether or not to allow for offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling off of its 1,350 miles. Given the significant role tourism plays in the Sunshine State’s economy, most Floridians oppose offshore drilling in Florida.
Democrats have used the issue to attack Republicans, particularly given President Donald Trump’s willingness to ease restrictions put in place by his predecessor President Barack Obama.
DeSantis explained he is not a proponent of offshore drilling along Florida’s coastline because he believes it might affect the state’s economy.
“I’m with our governor,” DeSantis said. “We’re unique. Offshore drilling I don’t think is something we want to pursue. It would lead to more jobs in that specific sector. The problem is I think it would chill other investment in Florida because we’re such a coastal state that people would say, ‘I don’t want an oil spill.’ It may be very safe to do, but I just think psychologically it would end up hurting the economy.”
“If we were in a different state – in Texas or these other ones, it may be a different calculation,” he continued. “But, for us, we want to make sure that we’re keeping that stuff off our shores.”
Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor