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