After $7 million trial balloon, Corcoran won’t run for governor, backs Putnam

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, and Gov. Rick Scott in West Palm Beach last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

After raising nearly $7  million for a widely anticipated campaign for Florida governor, state House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, announced in Tallahassee today he will not be a candidate and is backing Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the Republican nomination in a race that polls suggest is wide open.

Corcoran formed a political action committee last May that raised $6.9 million and spent $4.7 million through the end of March for an expected bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination against Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast.

“I’ve known Adam, I know his character. He is principled, authentic and passionate, and he loves this state,” Corcoran said in a statement released by Putnam’s campaign. “Adam will be a phenomenal leader.”

Corcoran said Democrats running for governor want to “over-regulate, raise taxes and put burdens back on the state” that would threaten job gains made under Gov. Rick Scott.

“Who can take those great gains and go much further down the road to a prosperous Florida? There is no question, there is no doubt that that person, that leader is Adam Putnam,” Corcoran said.

Putnam said Corcoran is “a principled conservative and has been an extraordinary Speaker of the House. I am honored to have his support.”

Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC had the appearance of a campaign-in-waiting. But the conventional wisdom on a Corcoran candidacy began to shift in recent weeks as the outgoing speaker didn’t pull the trigger on an announcement.

A turning point may have come in February, when Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC spent nearly $2 million to air a statewide TV ad in which Corcoran pledged that he won’t allow Florida to become a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants. The ad drew a heated response from Democrats — including a response ad from Philip Levine and a debate with Andrew Gillum — but didn’t appear to boost Republican primary voters.

Florida House speakers are towering figures in Tallahassee but have had mixed success pursuing statewide office. Former Speaker Johnnie Byrd‘s 2004 run for U.S. Senate is still seen as a legendary flameout. Former Speaker Marco Rubio was written off as a little-known underdog when he launched a Senate campaign in 2009, but he went on win the seat in 2010.

Putnam served in the state House and five terms in Congress before returning to Florida and winning the first of two terms as agriculture commissioner in 2010.

DeSantis is a three-term member of Congress who’s running as a Tallahassee outsider. His campaign pooh-poohed Corcoran’s endorsement of Putnam as insider deal-making.

“Career politician Adam Putnam will now get the two-man race he’s been fearing for a year. A conservative Iraq Veteran endorsed by Donald Trump vs. a Never Trump career politician who supported amnesty for illegal aliens. We like our odds,” said DeSantis spokesman David Vasquez.

Trump in December tweeted that DeSantis “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

Putnam originally backed Jeb Bush for president in 2016 and, at the Republican National Convention that year, said Trump “wasn’t my first or second choice, but he won fair and square.”

But Putnam was not part of the “Never Trump” movement. During the same interview in which he said Trump wasn’t his top choice, Putnam added: “I’m voting for Donald Trump…This is a choice. Ballots aren’t open-ended questions. This is a choice so I think it’s important for us to recognize that.”

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