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Who does the Florida House Speaker support for governor? Depends which one you ask.

Putnamcorcoran
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam (left) and outgoing House Speaker Richard Corcoran (right) speak to supporters in the "Spin Room" after the debate between Putnam and Ron DeSantis in Kissimmee. | Emily L. Mahoney, Times/Herald

KISSIMMEE — After the debate of the two top Republican candidates for governor Thursday night, the Florida House's incoming and outgoing speakers both stood just yards apart in the "Spin Room," facing TV cameras and fielding questions.

There was one difference: They were advocating for different candidates.

Corcoran, who endorsed Putnam months ago, called Ron DeSantis "visionless."

"He's got a bulldog mouth, a chihuahua a—, and he doesn't even know what the heck is going on in this state," he said in his typical bombastic style, which was likely enhanced by the fact that he is no longer running for governor himself.

"Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, that's the only thing he can say," Corcoran added. "At some point you've got to come out and give people a Florida vision."

Oliva, a close ally of Corcoran's in the House on nearly every policy issue, saw something totally different in the debate.

"I strongly feel the gap we started with today in the polls has already begun to tighten," he said of DeSantis, who has been down by double digits. "Prior to me making my decision, I wanted to make sure he's someone who fully understood the challenges of Florida, is fully invested in them and knew the way forward and how to lead. I felt fully convinced of that."

Oliva surprised many when he broke ranks and endorsed Congressman Ron DeSantis on Thursday.

He's the only state lawmaker who has come out with a public statement of endorsement of DeSantis. Several Republican legislators at the convention told the Times/Herald they were supporting Putnam, who served in the state House in the late '90s and has long been cultivating relationships with elected leaders of Florida.

"Adam certainly thrives on state issues and that's what this election is about," said state Sen. Dana Young of Tampa. "I really enjoyed enjoyed when Adam welcomed the moderators to Florida and welcomed his opponent to Florida."

Corcoran also rebuked the moderators for skipping over top state issues. The debate was nationally broadcast by Fox News and focused on topics like President Trump, immigration, abortion, international trade and the Russia investigation.

Not once was there a question about education, the environment, criminal justice reform or the opioid crisis.  Health care was briefly discussed.

"Some of the questions were asinine. Why are we discussing Russia? What can the next governor of state of Florida do with Russia?" Corcoran asked. "Not one single question, the most foremost issue out in this debate more than anything else is education. ... But it's a good thing for Ron that we didn't because guess who doesn't have an education platform?"

But Oliva defended DeSantis, saying he's discussed state issues with him and he's confident he knows them inside and out.

"I have spent a great deal of time with the Congressman and I have asked at length about choice in education," he said. "We have talked at length about the health care system and the things we can do to reform it and make it more accessible and I can tell you: People will see this much more now as the campaign gets under way. He's well versed in them."

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