Both Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater are shoo-ins for reelection on Nov. 4.
But that hasn’t stopped either man from major fund-raising efforts: Each candidate is headed toward more than $3 million in campaign contributions.
The heavy hauls may be a sign of their larger ambitions.
“Putnam, especially, has been moving very aggressively toward a governor’s run [in 2018],” said Miami pollster and Florida International University professor Dario Moreno. “He’s raising money. He’s going to meetings of Republicans across the state. He’s reaching out to Republican leadership.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Both men were coy about their ambitions after completing another four-year term in their Florida Cabinet offices. Putnam said he is “entirely focused on the awesome job of agriculture commissioner.”
Atwater had a similar response to the rumors: “As humbling as it is to hear it said from time to time, I just don’t allow myself to be distracted by the conversation.”
The former vice mayor of North Palm Beach, Atwater spent a decade in the Legislature and served as Senate President from 2008 until 2010. As CFO, he oversees the investment of state funds, insurance-fraud investigations and the workers’ compensation system, and serves as the state fire marshal.
On the campaign trail, the 56-year-old Atwater talks about achievements during his first term such as implementing no-fault auto insurance reforms, launching programs to monitor state contracts and advocating a Homeowners Claims Bill of Rights to educate them about property insurance provisions.
Putnam has been politically active since 1996, when he was first elected to the Florida House. The Polk County Republican spent a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected agriculture commissioner.
Putnam oversees the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, a sweeping state agency that helps farmers, manages state forests, safeguards consumers and processes concealed-weapon license applications. He is also part of the three-member Florida Cabinet with Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Putnam’s platform includes developing a comprehensive water policy that will address all areas of the state, as well as diversifying Florida’s energy portfolio.
Putnam, 40, recently spearheaded efforts to cut the corporate energy sales tax and funnel some of the remaining revenue into school construction and maintenance.
“That, as much as anything, reflects what my approach to being commissioner has been,” he said.
Putnam is being challenged by Thaddeus “Thad” Hamilton, a 64-year-old Democrat and Army veteran who retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services in 2006.
Hamilton won only 2 percent of the vote when he ran for the office without a party affiliation in 2010.
In his second bid for the office, this time as a Democrat, Hamilton is focusing on consumer protection and the environment, he told the Herald/Times. He is particularly concerned about water conservation and pollutants seeping into the state’s waterways.
So far, Hamilton has raised about $22,000 in campaign contributions and taken out $13,000 in loans, state records show.
Atwater’s opponent, William “Will” Rankin, has $17,631 in contributions and lent his campaign an additional $14,600.
Rankin has received more attention than Hamilton, but that is mainly due to questions about his résumé and background. Rankin has resorted to carrying around a binder filled with photocopies of university transcripts, military papers and news clippings to prove he is who he says he is.
He is the former director of asset management for the State Treasury of Ohio and also worked for the U.S. Congressional Census Monitoring Board. He said the years he spent as a criminal-investigations agent in the U.S. Army prepared him to fight financial fraud in Florida.
Rankin said that if he were to be elected CFO, he would work to reverse a state law that requires state employees to contribute a portion of their pay to the state pension fund and another that allows energy companies to charge customers in advance for future power plants.
Neither Rankin nor Hamilton has received support from the Florida Democratic Party, whose leaders say they are focusing their efforts on unseating Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Bondi, the Republican attorney general.
A Sept. 29 poll by the Florida Chamber of Commerce put Atwater ahead of Rankin, 43-27 percent. The same poll had Putnam leading Hamilton, 41-29 percent.
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute released results from its survey Oct. 22 that had Putnam with a 51-35 advantage over Hamilton and Atwater leading Rankin 50-35.
Moreno, the Miami pollster, called Putnam and Atwater the GOP’s most likely candidates for governor in 2018.
“The only other person who could enter would be [U.S. Sen.] Marco Rubio, if he wanted to,” he said.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com or Tia Mitchell at email@example.com.