ORLANDO -- Gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Jack Latvala displayed two distinct styles this weekend as they schmoozed with Republican activists at the state party's midsummer gathering in Orlando.
Putnam, the agriculture commissioner from Bartow, hosted breakfast Saturday for about 200 county GOP leaders at the Rosen Shingle Creek, where his 20-minute stump speech was partly biographical, partly his "conservative, positive vision" of Florida's future and partly a call to arms for the faithful to get worked up about the 2018 cycle. "The left is coming for us," Putnam told the crowd, warning of how out-of-state liberals like George Soros and Tom Steyer will push for the "Californiaization" of Florida.
"Floridians are hungry for someone who knows this state like the back of his hand," Putnam said. He spoke proudly of Florida's crime rate being at a "46-year-low" and the state being No. 1 in the number of concealed weapons. "I think there's a connection," he said.
At one point, as Putnam stressed the need for the state to find better jobs for young people, he sounded like a Rand McNally atlas, as he rattled off "Clewiston, Pahokee, Wausau, Bagdad, Milton, DeFuniak, Bartow, Wauchula, where they ought not have to leave our state to find a great career," a line that brought applause from the crowd.
Latvala, the Senate appropriations chairman from Clearwater, hosted a well-attended ice cream social at the hotel Friday night, where he gave a four-minute speech and spoke of his own role in building a party that was mired deep in the wilderness when he began his career in 1975. "A lot of my colleagues think that we just woke up one day and we were a majority in Tallahassee. That's not the way it happened," he said.
As the GOP reaches its 20th year of being in control of Tallahassee (and after a session marked by brutal infighting), "We've got to take a look at what we've accomplished, how we're acting, how we're working together," he said. He added he's "upset" at the state GOP's weak fund-raising in the quarter that ended June 30, which he attributed to the spread of political committees controlled by individuals.
In a jab at both Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, a prospective candidate, Latvala said of other GOP candidates: "I see people who've been in government their entire life, that have never made a payroll ... I just think that's an important dimension for the party that nominated Donald Trump." Latvala will kick off his candidacy Wednesday with events in Hialeah, Clearwater and Panama City.