Election 2020

Trump, Shaq Endorse Florida Gubernatorial Candidates in Likely Most Expensive Race in State’s History

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) answers questions from reporters after a Florida Republican gubernatorial primary debate at the Republican Sunshine Summit on June 28, 2018, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Republicans Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis argued over who loved President Trump more during the June 28 debate between Florida GOP gubernatorial primary candidates – six days after voters were told which of the GOPers Trump loved more.

Even though only one of them could claim the president’s affection, both candidates promised to endorse the president’s 2020 reelection campaign.

“Most assuredly,” Putnam said as he promised to back Trump for another term. “And I look forward to campaigning with him as governor of Florida,” even though Trump endorsed DeSantis in the Florida governor’s race.

“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 shot back. “You couldn’t find Adam Putnam if you had a search warrant.”

As is his habit, Trump used Twitter to endorse DeSantis on June 22.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida. Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes – Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s endorsement couldn’t have come at a better time for DeSantis, who was trailing Putnam 32-17 percentage points among likely Florida GOP voters in a poll released by Fox News the night before the president’s tweet.

On the Democratic Party’s side of the August gubernatorial primary ballot, the celebrity endorsement of the week went to the former mayor of Miami Beach Philip Levine. On June 26, he received the support of former Miami Heat and Orlando Magic center Shaquille O’Neal.

“You know, I’ve met a lot of people in my life — but there’s something really special about this guy from Florida who’s never been afraid to step up for others when the game of life is on the line; his name is Philip Levine,” O’Neal said in a Levine campaign radio ad the Sun-Sentinel reported would be running across Florida.

But endorsements aside, while Trump and O’Neal endorsed their favorite candidates, some of the wealthiest people from across the nation promise to make Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial election the richest in the state’s history. And they are putting their millions where their mouths are.

The Tampa Bay Times reported DeSantis raised one-fourth of all his contributions from five individual millionaires. Billionaire George Soros and an affiliated organization pumped nearly 18 percent of all the money raised by Andrew Gillum into the Democrat’s campaign bank account.

But it hasn’t been only the wealthy with political agendas who have been bankrolling the Florida Democratic and GOP gubernatorial primary candidates. U.S. Sugar, Florida Power & Light and Disney were Putnam’s most significant contributors, as of May 28.

With at least $80 million already raised by the candidates, the Times predicted Florida’s gubernatorial election should easily crest the previous record of $150 million spent by Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist in the 2014 election.

Of course, the source of the funding can be seen as being more important than the total dollar amount.

For example, DeSantis campaign spokesman David Vasquez said Putnam’s list of contributors should become an issue.

“Putnam is funded by every special interest group in the Tallahassee swamp he’s served over his 22-year career as a politician,” said Vasquez.

Two of the Democrats running for governor are also on the list of millionaires who have contributed to the financial largesse. Levine and Chris King, an Orlando businessman, have each donated half of the money their campaigns had raised as of May 28.

Levine gave his campaign $9.2 million. That was 52 percent of the funds his campaign raised. King wrote his campaign a check for $3.2 million, or 51 percent of his campaign’s fundraising total.

Where has the money been spent? TV.

Florida voters have seen just the beginning of TV advertising funded by those donations and can expect more through the August gubernatorial primary campaign.

The Naples Herald reported Putnam and Levine fired the most massive salvos of campaign TV advertising in May.

Putnam’s Florida Grown political committee spent $4.4 million in advertising in May. The advertising invoice included a new TV ad that promotes a plan to increase career and technical training for students, as well as taking a shot at “liberal elites.”

Levine spent $2.6 million for television advertising in May. His campaign ran a series of ads that included a promise to work for more stringent gun-control laws along with a ban on assault weapons.

The millions being spent to flood Florida’s TV airwaves are not an anomaly. USA Today reported $312 million in advertising — Jan. 1 to June 4 — had already been spent by candidates in gubernatorial races across the nation.

Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said that for his party November is “one of the biggest opportunities for gubernatorial pickups in years.”

Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the GOP has a lot to lose if the advertising doesn’t work.

“Republicans are very exposed,” said Kondik. “You would expect that the number of Republican governorships will decrease because they control so many seats” and the president’s party typically loses ground in midterm elections “up and down the ballot.”