In their first political debate of the 2018 Republican race for governor the two candidates, Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis, didn’t waste any time attacking each other.
“What an exciting time to be in front of such a live audience of a thousand Florida Republicans,” Putnam said at the beginning of the debate which was hosted by Fox News at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando.
“It’s completely different than a Washington, D.C., studio and I just want to say welcome to Florida, congressman (DeSantis),” Putnam added. Putnam has criticized DeSantis for his absence on the campaign trail in Florida, instead choosing to make almost daily appearances on Fox News from a studio in the nation’s capital.
It was a debate that touched on topics ranging from abortion rights, to immigration, to gun violence, to President Donald Trump.
The candidates were asked whether they were prepared to endorse the president in 2020.
“Most assuredly,” Putnam quickly responded. “And I look forward to campaigning with him as governor of Florida.” A reference to reports that Trump, who has endorsed DeSantis in the race for governor, may campaign for the Florida congressman.
“That would be the first time you ever campaigned with him because when Donald Trump was trying to win Florida in 2016, Adam Putnam did not attend a single rally with him,” DeSantis fired back. “You couldn’t find Adam Putnam if you had a search warrant.”
Putnam went on to praise Trump for his proposed tax cuts that Congress enacted earlier this year, the tariffs the president has imposed on foreign products, and his meeting with North Korean Kim Jong Un.
On immigration, DeSantis repeated his accusations that Putnam has been weak on immigration issues when he served in Congress and now serving as state agriculture commissioner.
“He’s weak on the border. He’s weak on illegal immigration,” DeSantis charged. “And he supported the Obama-Schumer Gang of Eight immigration amnesty which is a terrible piece of legislation.”
“My “Secure Florida First” plan will reinstate the relationship with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) that went away under the Obama administration so that they would be detained and deported by the feds and not on Florida taxpayers’ dimes,” Putnam responded.
The issue of gun violence also came up in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Annapolis, MD, Thursday. Both candidates reiterated their support of the Second Amendment, saying the problem with today’s mass shootings isn’t guns.
Putnam was asked about his agency’s failure for about a year to perform all background checks for people applying for concealed weapons permits. Permits were issued to 291 applicants that have since been revoked.
“When I learned that we had an employee that was not doing that job, I held them accountable,” he said. “Floridians are safe. The individuals who let us down is no longer in our department and I held them accountable. That’s what leaders do.”
“He didn’t act like a leader because he covered it up,” DeSantis fired back. “It was discovered by the media.”
DeSantis needed a good showing in tonight’s debate. Even with Trump’s endorsement, recent polls have shown him trailing Putnam by double-digits. He appeared to hold his own against Putnam during the hour-long debate.