Corcoran tosses support to Putnam in GOP primary

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Wednesday dropped his potential bid for governor and endorsed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican primary.

Corcoran, a four-term House member from Land O’Lakes, said he re-evaluated his long-speculated bid to succeed outgoing Gov. Rick Scott and decided against running.

“Florida is an expensive state. It costs a lot of money to run,” Corcoran said during an appearance with Putnam in Tallahassee. “I don’t think we had the resources to move forward.”

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.”

Corcoran and Putnam deflected the criticism, underscoring their familiarity with issues facing Florida versus DeSantis’ frequent appearances before national audiences on Fox News.

“Was it from a studio in New York?” Corcoran asked about the DeSantis statement.

“Richard and I know Florida. We have been through every corner of this state,” Putnam said. “Floridians want someone who will lead our state with passion and conviction, with high character, someone who knows our state and will always put Florida first.”

Democrats also criticized the endorsement. Christian Ulvert, a strategist for former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine’s gubernatorial campaign, said Putnam was embracing Corcoran’s “divisive politics of attacking public school teachers and his effort to drain resources from our public schools,” referring to legislation that expanded the use of charter schools and private-school scholarships.

With more than $2 million left in his political committee as of March, Corcoran said he would use the remaining funds to help Republicans maintain control of the state House and Senate in the 2018 elections.

“We’re going to make sure the House comes back with a super-majority and the Senate comes back with a majority,” said Corcoran, who will leave the House in November because of term limits.