With just seven month left before Republicans choose their gubernatorial nominee, and even less than that when factoring in absentee and mail-in ballots, Congressman Ron DeSantis needs to pick up the pace if he hopes to close the fundraising gap with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Sifting through the fundraising numbers posted over the past 24 hours, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of Florida’s GOP primary for governor. Sitting atop the fundraising mountain, Putnam has amassed nearly $17 million in his war chest, and that’s after he’s already invested about $4-5 million in previously raised and spent funds building out some of the campaign infrastructure he’s going to need to win.
DeSantis came close to matching Putnam in fundraising in January, posting about $895,000 in new contributions to both his campaign and a supporting political committee. When combined with previously raised cash brought in by “Friends of Ron DeSantis,” he’s banked about $3.3 million, and he can still draw down another $1.6 million in a federal account, provided he jumps through all the appropriate legal hoops. All told, that gives DeSantis about $5 million to work with through the coming month, plus whatever new money his supporters can raise.
But is that enough?
Supporters of Adam Putnam – and in Tallahassee there are many – are wringing their hands at the prospect of facing off against DeSantis, who is ever-present on Fox News and can probably call in a favor or two from the likes of Sean Hannity. That’s the kind of free publicity that could help negate some of Putnam’s financial advantage. But Sean Hannity can only help so much, and Florida is but one of many states that will elect governors in November. Hannity isn’t likely to pull out all the stops just to aid DeSantis, especially if DeSantis doesn’t start closing the fundraising gap with Putnam.
Putnam’s $12 million cash-on-hand advantage is substantial, and translates into roughly two statewide television buys with heavy saturation – we’re talking about the kind of media buys that would “burn in” Putnam’s messaging with Republican primary voters being exposed to multiple viewings of the ad on television.
In 2010, Rick Scott ended up spending about $25 million more than Bill McCollum, when all sources are factored in (though some sources say McCollum spent much more and Scott’s advantage was even smaller). And while that’s nearly twice the financial advantage that Putnam currently enjoys over DeSantis, Scott needed a larger margin to overcome the McCollum campaign’s attacks on his integrity and the fact that he wasn’t well known in Florida. Putnam has neither of those problems, and while most campaigns at some point devolve into mudslinging, the main fault lines between Putnam and DeSantis are likely to be policy issues, not personal. That’s good news for Putnam, because it’s a lot cheaper to counter policy messaging than it is to counter personal attacks.
Without a doubt, DeSantis will be a formidable opponent for Putnam, but if he hopes to defeat him, he’s likely going to need to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of two dollars for every three raised by Putnam. That means if both candidates continue to raise only $1 million per month, DeSantis isn’t going to get there. That pace would put Putnam at $29 million in total contributions over his entire campaign, and DeSantis at about $12 million. Even if we just count cash on hand from today, and ignore all of the infrastructure investment Putnam has made to date, he’d still enjoy a 2:1 advantage over DeSantis, $24 million to $12 million.
Complicating the picture for DeSantis, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran continues to lurk just over his shoulder, mulling a gubernatorial run of his own. If that happens, Putnam’s cash advantage becomes even more important, as his two challengers will be fighting over some of the same voters.
For DeSantis to really start gaining some traction, he’s going to need to post some eye-popping fundraising numbers in February and March. Even if Putnam matches him, the more money both men raise, the less Putnam’s $12 million advantage will matter.