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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
Columnists

Henderson: Door opens a tad wider if Putnam wans to run

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Monday’s decision by a Florida Senate committee to reject Medicaid expansion doesn’t mean Charlie Crist or any other potential challenger should start measuring windows at the governor’s mansion for new drapes.

I mean, maybe they can browse the catalogues or something, but they should do so discreetly for the time being.

However, if you are anywhere near a Republican strategy meeting and you hear, “Paging Adam Putnam…” you will know Rick Scott’s own party has sized up the scene and decided its best hope for 2014 is ABR – anyone but Rick.

If that happens, stock up on canned goods and head for the bunker. Chaos will be coming. We may have just gotten one step closer to that.

Key leaders in Scott’s own party just put his high-stakes flip on Medicaid expansion back in his face. Politics being the game of swords that it is, we could still see the governor and House Speaker Will Weatherford arm-in-arm in a few weeks, smiling at a compromise solution.

They could do a voucher system similar to Arkansas, allowing people to take the Medicaid supplement and purchase private insurance. Scott could still claim victory, sort of, and maybe hold on to the illusion of power.

"I am confident that the Legislature will do the right thing and find a way to protect taxpayers and the uninsured in our state while the new health-care law provides 100 percent federal funding,” he said in a statement.

He already was a damaged brand, though, and this didn’t help. His own party just twisted his arm out of its socket on one of the governor’s high-profile decisions. That doesn’t happen when someone is fully in charge.

If anyone was a big winner in the Medicaid development, it is Putnam, the fresh-faced and extremely likeable Opie Taylor lookalike from Polk County, who doubles as Florida’s agriculture commissioner. He might just have the juice – fresh-squeezed Florida orange, of course – to topple a sitting governor in his own party.

That assumes he wants to accept the Medicaid decision as the bugle charge to get into the race. If he does, Putnam could be a game-changer in many ways. We’ll start with the fact he is everything Scott is not: quick-witted, comfortable in front of crowds and well-spoken.

He appears to have no serious political baggage, either, as opposed to Crist – the Republican, turned independent, turned Democrat. Charlie’s baggage wouldn’t fit on the Queen Mary, although he does continue to have great hair.

“If I was Adam Putnam, I’d jump into the race. If you’re ever going to jump in the race, now is the time to do it. I’ve known Adam Putnam a long time and he has always wanted to be governor of this state,” said retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson, a Republican.

“He gave up a secure congressional seat to come back as agricultural commissioner. Quite frankly, who the heck does that? The question for him is simply a question of timing.”

And how is the timing?

“If you’re going to jump in the race, now is the time to jump,” Paulson said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he got in. He would have a lot of plusses.”

That’s especially true if the task boils down to proving he would be more appealing than one of the least-popular governors in the country. That isn’t exactly a high bar Putnam has to clear.

Lots of things can happen before 2014, so any challenger is going to move cautiously now. That’s especially true for Putnam, since a miscalculation could put him back on the farm in a hurry. But the door to take on an incumbent governor may have opened a little wider Monday.

We will wait to see if Putnam walks through it.


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