How President Trump is shaping race for Florida governor

DeSantis, Putnam ads tie candidates to Trump ahead of GOP primary

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – President Donald Trump appears to be shaping a heated Florida gubernatorial race as ads ramp up ahead of the GOP primary.

Both U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam debuted new ads that prove not all politics are local. 

The latest ad for DeSantis, featuring his wife, Casey, has a somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone, shows him teaching his children with a curriculum heavy in the ways of Trump. 

“Build the wall,” he says as his son piles brick-like blocks on top of each other. He goes on to read the president’s book, “The Art of the Deal,” saying to his 4-month-old son, “Then Mr. Trump said, ‘You’re fired.’ I love that part.”

Putnam’s ad features the endorsement of Attorney General Pam Bondi, a staunch Trump supporter.

"I fought hard to elect President Trump and I'm supporting Adam Putnam for governor," Bondi said in the 30-second spot. "Adam will stand with President Trump to get tough on illegal immigration, ban sanctuary cities and deport criminal illegal aliens."

The latest poll shows DeSantis has opened a double-digit lead over Putnam. 

Rick Mullaney, News4Jax political analyst and head of the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute, said it's likely Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis is the driving factor shifting the race in his favor.

“I think the conventional wisdom is Ron DeSantis' rise is directly related to that endorsement,” Mullaney said. “The debate they had a few weeks ago in Orlando, in which he rightfully and understandably highlighted that endorsement, has been a difference-maker.”

Putnam’s collapse and DeSantis’ rise illustrate the extraordinary clout Trump now wields -- with a simple tweet -- in his adopted party.

“Clearly, that's important in the primary. Clearly, that's Ron DeSantis' strategy. Adam Putnam himself is embracing Trump, make no mistake about it. Both of them are going to the right,” Mullaney said. “But Donald Trump's endorsement has made a big difference in this primary in Florida.”

But what happens in the primaries and DeSantis' alignment with the White House could have a profoundly different impact come the general election, Mullaney said.

Mullaney said a candidate can win the Republican primary with that core Republican support, but to win the general, candidates will have to reach out to independents and broaden their demographic base. 

“Independents in Florida are much more negative toward Donald Trump. Statewide in Florida, although Donald Trump carried Florida, he didn't do it by a large margin,” Mullaney explained. "We're a much more purple state than, say, West Virginia or Indiana; therefore, the strategy of running to the right may work in the primary, but you're going to have to shift much more to the center if you want to be successful in the general.”

Both DeSantis and Putnam will participate in the News4Jax/JU Policy Institute gubernatorial debate next Wednesday, Aug. 8. It will be televised live on WJXT and other stations across the state.

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