Jeff Atwater, Adam Putnam and Will Weatherford Roll the Dice on Immigration

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: June 11, 2013 3:55 AM
Immigration Crossing Sign
Florida’s next crop of Republican leaders could be falling into the same trap that ensnared a prominent Sunshine State politician who pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory.‭

State CFO Jeff Atwater,‭ ‬Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and state House Speaker Will Weatherford,‭ ‬R-Wesley Chapel,‭ ‬have all generated buzz as potential candidates for higher office down the road.‭ ‬While none of them is expected to challenge Gov.‭ ‬Rick Scott in the‭ ‬2014‭ ‬Republican primary,‭ ‬all three of them have been mentioned as possible candidates for future gubernatorial elections.‭ ‬There’s also the possibility that one or more of them could run for the U.S.‭ ‬Senate in future election cycles.‭

All three joined former Gov.‭ ‬Jeb Bush in endorsing the immigration reform bill which is being shaped in Congress.‭ ‬The four Florida Republicans joined almost‭ ‬50‭ ‬business and state leaders signing a letter urging Congress to pass immigration reform which Crossroads GPS ran in publications across the nation on Monday.‭

For the moment,‭ ‬Atwater,‭ ‬Putnam and Weatherford are all on the same page on immigration -- ensuring that if they square off in a primary,‭ ‬this won’t be an issue.‭ ‬But primaries can attract surprise candidates who have no problems knocking over the apple cart.‭ ‬The three Republicans and their teams only have to look back to‭ ‬2010‭ ‬when Scott upset Bill McCollum in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary.‭

During his decades in Congress and his four years as state attorney general,‭ ‬McCollum tried to get his conservative credentials in order.‭ ‬He helped lead the impeachment of Bill Clinton.‭ ‬McCollum ensured Florida led the charge when a coalition of states offered a constitutional challenge to Barack Obama’s health-care law.‭

But Scott,‭ ‬a political unknown,‭ ‬was able to outflank McCollum and move to his right.‭ ‬By appearing more conservative than McCollum,‭ ‬Scott was able to defeat him in the Republican‭ ‬primary.‭ ‬Certainly in‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬when the tea party movement was ascending in Republican politics,‭ ‬Scott’s lack of political credentials helped him,‭ ‬especially when compared to a career politician like McCollum.‭ ‬Scott’s personal wealth helped him fund an aggressive campaign against McCollum who responded in kind.‭

Scott was able to capitalize on immigration as he successfully ran to McCollum’s right.‭ ‬With Arizona in the news for passing its immigration law,‭ ‬Scott and McCollum both took aim at the White House for opposing the law.‭ ‬Both of them spoke out against the White House and defended Arizona.‭

While the two sides constantly attacked each other,‭ ‬Scott was able to hammer McCollum for being inconsistent on the need for an Arizona-style law in Florida and for his late embrace of enacting E-Verify software.

Despite getting in the race and being a political unknown when he jumped in,‭ ‬Scott was able to run to McCollum’s right -- and defeat him in the primary.‭

While Atwater,‭ ‬Putnam and Weatherford are all knotted together on immigration,‭ ‬they are making the same mistake McCollum did by leaving themselves open to a challenge from the right on immigration.‭

Granted,‭ ‬time is on the three Republicans‭’ ‬side.‭ ‬Hispanic voters are becoming more important in Florida.‭ ‬None of the three is likely to challenge Scott in‭ ‬2014‭ ‬and they should be well-positioned in election cycles to come.‭ ‬Atwater is the oldest of them at‭ ‬55.‭ ‬Putnam turns‭ ‬39‭ ‬next month.‭ ‬Weatherford is only‭ ‬33.‭ ‬Being on the same page as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush gives them a little bit of conservative cover.‭ ‬For what it was worth,‭ ‬Connie Mack,‭ ‬a vocal opponent of the Arizona law,‭ ‬ran into little trouble when he ran for the Republican U.S.‭ ‬Senate nomination in‭ ‬2012.‭

But,‭ ‬for the moment,‭ ‬the three Republicans are leaving their right flank open on immigration.‭ ‬With Weatherford facing term limits in‭ ‬2014‭ ‬and Atwater and Putnam heavy favorites to win second terms,‭ ‬the three of them should be safe in the short run -- but then the pundits said the same thing about Bill McCollum in early‭ ‬2010.‭

Tallahassee freelance political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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