Florida governor’s money race: Donors bailed before Corcoran did; Soros weighs in again


House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam at Mar-a-Lago in March for the Palm Beach County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner. Corcoran last week abandoned his quest for governor and endorsed Putnam. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, didn’t formally abandon plans to run for governor until last week, but his contributor base appears to have bailed on the idea several weeks earlier.

Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC was raising more than $900,000 a month between last June and Jan. 9, when the 2018 legislative session began and lawmakers were barred from raising campaign money. When the session ended  — and with it, much of Corcoran’s clout — his PAC raised $249,750 during the last 11 days of March, but then only $49,545 in the entire month of April.

Watchdog PAC spent more than $3 million after Feb. 1, much of it on a statewide TV ad depicting Corcoran as tough on illegal immigration. Despite the red-meat messaging for Republican primary voters, Corcoran did not appear to make major inroads in a GOP race that already included Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast.

Corcoran endorsed Putnam last week.

Watchdog PAC, which raised nearly $7 million, still had nearly $2 million in cash on hand at the beginning of May.

Other highlights of campaign finance reports released last week:

• Putnam remains the money leader with nearly $19 million in cash on hand between his campaign and Florida Grown PAC at the beginning of May.

• DeSantis has about $7 million in cash on hand. He’s running roughly even with Putnam in GOP primary polls despite spending less than $800,000 so far between his campaign and affiliated PAC.

• Democrat Philip Levine pumped another $2.2 million in personal money into the race last month, bringing his personal stake to nearly $8 million so far. Levine and a pro-Levine PAC have spent about $8 million on TV ads so far. He began May with about $3.5 million cash on hand.

• Democrat Gwen Graham raised about $1 million in April between her campaign and affiliated PAC. She began May with about $4.7 million in the bank.

• A political committee supporting Democrat Andrew Gillum got a $250,000 check from liberal megadonor George Soros in April. In all, Soros has given $450,000 and son Alex Soros has chipped in $50,000 to the Forward Florida PAC. Between the PAC and his campaign, Gillum began May with about $1.4 million in cash on hand.

• Democrat Chris King began May with about $1.6 million in the bank. The Winter Park businessman has put $2.1 million of his own money into the race.


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.”

Adam Putnam coming to Forum Club next week

Adam Putnam at the Riviera Beach Marina last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a 2018 candidate for Florida governor, will appear next Monday at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch that organizers originally hoped would pair him with GOP rival Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, however, had a scheduling conflict and could not attend the event at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, his campaign said.

DeSantis and Putnam have opened Republican campaigns for governor. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, is also expected to get in the GOP nominating contest.

Tickets for the Forum Club lunch are $40 for members, $60 for guests of members and $85 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased at the Forum Club website  or by contacting Kelsey Joyce at kjoyce@forumclubpb.com.

Putnam and DeSantis — and Corcoran, if he gets in the race — are slated to appear at a Florida Family Policy Council forum in Orlando on May 5 and a Broward County Lincoln Day dinner on May 18.

The Republican Party of Florida is also teaming with Fox News to host a nationally televised GOP candidates debate in Orlando on June 28.




Money race: Republican Putnam laps the field of Florida governor candidates

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam rolling out his 2018 campaign for governor in Bartow last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam had another boffo fundraising month in March, snagging more than $2.2 million between his main campaign and his Florida Grown political committee, according to finance reports posted this week.

Putnam began April with more than $19.2 million in cash on hand — nearly three times as much as GOP primary foe Ron DeSantis and more than double the combined cash on hand of the entire four-candidate Democratic gubernatorial field.

Among Democrats, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham began April with nearly $4 million available between her campaign and a pro-Graham PAC. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is next with nearly $2.9 million.

Levine, who has put more than $5.5 million of his own money into the race, has spent the most of any candidate — more than $8.6 million.

Palm Beach County Trump backers host DeSantis; not interested in Putnam, Corcoran

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, at the kickoff of his campaign for governor in Boca Raton in January. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Rep. and 2018 Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, will get an exclusive chance to tap into President Donald Trump‘s base of supporters on Monday night when he speaks at a Palm Beach County Trump Club gathering in West Palm Beach.

Ron DeSantis and attorrney general candidate Jay Fant will speak to the Palm Beach County Trump Club on Monday.

More than 600 people had RSVP’d for the event at the Palm Beach Kennel Club as of Friday, organizers said.

The local Trump booster club is one of several such organizations formed around Florida in the past year to try to engage Trump supporters who aren’t necessarily traditional Republican voters. The local organization drew about 350 people for its initial meeting in February, which featured Trump’s favorite pastor, Mark Burns.

DeSantis’ GOP primary rivals — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and likely candidate Richard Corcoran, the speaker of the Florida House — won’t get a similar audience with Trump backers, Palm Beach County Trump Club Vice President Larry Snowden said.

“Donald Trump has endorsed Ron DeSantis and we are only inviting that endorsee to speak at our club,” Snowden said.

On Dec. 22, as Air Force One taxied on the runway at Palm Beach International Airport  before Trump began a Christmas-New Year’s stay at Mar-a-Lago, the president tweeted: “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!”

Trump clubs began cropping up around Florida last year. The Republican Party of Florida gave its blessing to several of the clubs in hopes of persuading Trump backers — many of whom are disdainful of the GOP establishment — to turn out for Republican candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.

In January 2016, when much of the GOP establishment in Florida backed Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio for president, Joe Budd was an early supporter of Donald Trump. Budd, now the county’s Republican state committeeman, is president of a local Trump club. The club’s VP, Larry Snowden, is behind Budd in this picture. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County’s Trump Club is independent of the Republican Party even though its president, Joe Budd, is Palm Beach County’s Republican state committeeman and its other leaders — Vice President Snowden; his wife and the club’s Treasurer, Sue Snowden; and Secretary Linda Stoch — are longtime GOP activists.

Although the local Trump Club isn’t an official party organ, Larry Snowden said it shares the GOP goal of electing Republicans in 2018 — because that is Trump’s goal.

“Donald Trump is all about electing more Republicans in the midterms and we are totally supporting Donald Trump,” Snowden said. “We are completely aligned with our president’s posture on electing more Republicans and not electing more Democrats.”

Frank Luntz to moderate May 5 forum with Florida GOP candidates for governor

Frank Luntz holds up a Hillary Clinton doll as he speaks to Florida GOP delegates at a breakfast during the 2016 Republican National Convention. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post

A conservative Christian group announced Thursday that Republican messaging guru and Fox News analyst Frank Luntz will moderate  a forum with Florida Republican gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis next month in Orlando.

The Florida Family Policy Council event is slated for May 5.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and any other “major GOP candidates” will be invited to participate as well if they get into the race in the next few weeks, organizers said.

“Republicans have a very strong and impressive bench of candidates in the race for Florida’s next governor, which makes choosing the best candidate even more challenging. This forum will help educate primary voters to crystallize this important decision,” said Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger.

Stemberger also praised Luntz for his “skill in drawing out candidates and helping voters understand what’s important and what values they hold.”

On the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Luntz told Florida delegates that Republicans needed to improve their messaging for Donald Trump to win the presidency.

“If the election were held today, Hillary Clinton wins,” Luntz said at the time. “Your state is going to determine who wins and loses this campaign.”


Is Florida governor’s race a witness protection program option?

Florida candidates for governor and the percentage of voters who have heard of them, from left: Republican Adam Putnam, Democrat Philip Levine, Republican Ron DeSantis, Democrat Gwen Graham, Republican Richard Corcoran, Democrats Andrew Gillum and Chris King.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has won two statewide elections and has spent $3.7 million on his 2018 campaign for governor — but 75 percent of voters in a new Quinnipiac University poll say they haven’t heard enough about him to form an opinion.

And Putnam is the best-known candidate in the race.

Click here to read about the rest of the Quinnipiac poll — including the Bill Nelson-Rick Scott Senate race and President Donald Trump’s approval rating in Florida.

Other candidates for governor are unknown to between 81 percent and 93 percent of the state’s voters, according to the poll.

The poll gives Democrats some optimism about regaining the governor’s mansion that the GOP has held since 1999. By a 45-to-37 percent margin, voters say they favor a Democrat for governor over a Republican. And  only 22 percent of voters say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports Trump, compared to 42 percent who say they are less likely to vote for a pro-Trump candidate.

“In the governor’s race, none of the candidates is well-known. Florida voters can expect massive – and probably nasty – TV advertising as the candidates for governor try to introduce themselves, and their opponents, to the electorate,” said Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

The new poll doesn’t appear to be an outlier on gubernatorial anonymity. A University of North Florida poll this month also found most voters not knowing about the candidates for governor. And a recent Mason-Dixon poll found a plurality of voters undecided in the Republican and Democratic primaries for governor.

Florida governor money chase: Putnam outraises DeSantis in first head-to-head month

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, shown campaigning for governor in Riviera Beach last year, remains the top fundraiser in the 2018 race for governor. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis‘ campaign for Florida governor has the Twitter backing of President Donald Trump and a finance team that includes Sheldon Adelson and other Republican heavyweights — but DeSantis raised less new money in January than Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican race for governor, according to finance reports filed Monday.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast.

DeSantis’ campaign advertised a gaudy $3.3 million January haul — but more than $2.4 million of that figure was raised last year by a pro-DeSantis PAC and transferred to a new PAC in January.

Putnam and DeSantis topped the Democratic candidates for governor in January fundraising. Here’s a look at the latest numbers:

• Putnam collected just over $1 million in January between his main campaign account ($379,452) and his Florida Grown political committee ($654,000). He began February with nearly $16.8 million in cash on hand between the two committees.

• DeSantis, who announced his candidacy on Jan. 5, raised $894,020 in new contributions in January. That includes $131,019 collected by his main campaign committee and $763,001 raised by a new PAC called Friends of Ron DeSantis. The Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC also received more than $2.4 million from the Fund For Florida’s Future, a PAC formed by DeSantis supporters last year that raised more than $2.6 million through the end of December. The Fund For Florida’s Future nearly zeroed out its account last month, giving $2 million to the new DeSantis PAC on Jan. 18 and another $447,394 on Jan. 31.

All told, DeSantis began February with more than $3.3 million in cash on hand.

• A third Republican who is expected to join the governor’s race, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, began this year with more than $5 million in his Watchdog PAC. A January report for the PAC was not available online early this morning. Corcoran is expected to announce his candidacy in March after the legislative session ends.

• Republican Jack Latvala, who resigned from the state Senate amid groping and sexual harassment allegations, has not formally shuttered his campaign for governor and has more than $4.3 million cash on hand between his campaign committee and Florida Leadership Committee. His January expenditures included $105,100 in legal fees.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at a Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee meeting in January. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

• In the race for the Democratic nomination, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine raked in the most January money. His All About Florida PAC collected $647,000 while his main campaign raised $105,894. Levine began February with  $4.1 million in cash on hand between the two entities.

Levine so far has poured more than $3.6 million of his own money into the race.

• Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham raised a combined $453,906 during January and began February with nearly $3.3 million in cash on hand.

• Winter Park businessman Chris King raised $260,683 in January and started this month with almost $1.7 million in cash on hand.

• Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum started this month with $676,528 in available cash between his campaign and his Forward Florida PAC after raising $148,746 in January.



Corcoran ‘sanctuary state’ ad draws fire from Dems Gillum, Levine

Democrats are decrying an ad by House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s PAC that depicts an illegal immigrant shooting an innocent woman.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, is not an announced candidate for governor, but his recent TV ad pledging that he won’t allow Florida to become a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants is having a big impact on the race.

Corcoran is expected to enter the race in March. His Watchdog PAC has spent about $1.4 million, Politico’s Matt Dixon reported, to air the ad in markets across the state. The ad depicts a hoodie-wearing man shooting a young woman on a suburban street and evokes the 2015 shooting in San Francisco of Kate Steinle by an immigrant who had been deported five times and was ultimately acquitted of murder.

Corcoran appears in the ad to say that “on my watch, Florida will never be a sanctuary state.”

Richard Corcoran and Andrew Gillum

Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum accused Corcoran of “race-baiting” in a Jan. 29 statement.

“In the age of Trump, Corcoran is vilifying immigrants. It’s a vile ad that seeks to divide us against one another, and the Speaker ought to be ashamed of himself,” Gillum said.

Corcoran, via Twitter, said he’d debate Gillum “anywhere, anytime” and Gillum quickly accepted.

The two will square off Tuesday night in a Tallahassee TV studio.

Philip Levine in new ad responding to Corcoran’s ad.

Democratic governor candidate Philip Levine announced today that he is spending $250,000 for a statewide TV ad decrying the “intolerance” of Corcoran’s ad.

“One Tallahassee politician is broadcasting a message of hate aimed at every man, woman and child who doesn’t look like him,” Levine says.

His ad also features an image of President Donald Trump, as Levine says: “It’s bad enough you hear this from our president, who bullies for a living. What’s worse are those who encourage him.”


Florida poll: Who are these people running for governor?

Florida governor candidates, from left: Republicans Adam Putnam, Ron DeSantis, Richard Corcoran; Democrats Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, Philip Levine, Chris King.

An overwhelming majority of Florida voters haven’t heard of any of the Republican or Democratic candidates for governor, according to a University of North Florida poll released today.

The poll also finds strong support for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for most felons who have completed their sentences, for legalizing marijuana and for allowing young non-citizens who were brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country and eventually apply for citizenship.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who won statewide elections in 2010 and 2014, is the best-known candidate for governor — but 67 percent of Florida voters say they’ve never heard of him. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, is unknown by 72 percent of voters and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, is unknown by 78 percent in the poll.

On the Democratic side, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who recently invested big bucks in TV ads, is unknown by 73 percent; former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is unknown by 78 percent and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is unknown by 81 percent.

“It’s a little surprising that so few people have heard of the candidates, particularly Adam Putnam who has won two statewide races, and Gwen Graham, who is a former member of Congress and the daughter of former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham,” said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF. “These results highlight both the opportunities for the candidates to shape the voters’ perception of them and the challenges they face in getting out their message.”

UNF polled 619 registered Florida voters between Jan. 29 and Feb.. 4 using live phone calls. The poll’s margin of error is 3.9 percent.