Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Old Florida grace meets new Florida haste as candidates cross paths in the Panhandle

DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — A pig-sized barrel smoker and the sweet smell of barbecue served as a beacon guiding the campaign's RV into the parking lot at Smokey J's Cafe.

Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for agriculture commissioner, stepped into the hot midday sun and immediately recognized the row of shiny SUVs parked nearby.

"Looks like Rick Scott is here, too," he said, as his clan — wife, four young kids and two campaign aides — took a break from a recent daylong whistle-stop campaign through the Panhandle.

All morning long, Putnam literally and figuratively walked in the shadow of the upstart Republican candidate for governor as Scott made his first major campaign swing.

At the restaurant door, Putnam's daughter Libby, 7, peaked her head inside.

"Daddy, he's here," she said, Scott's presence announced like a bogeyman.

Putnam laughed as he walked inside and claimed a table on the opposite side of the small, spartan restaurant from Scott's entourage.

The two men approached each other and shook hands for the first time, firm grip, gentlemanly.

The random encounter on the campaign trail connected old Florida with new, old money with new, experience with inexperience, exemplifying the dichotomy often contrasted on ballots in a state filled with transplants.

• • •

Putnam, 35, is a wealthy fifth- generation Floridian whose Polk County family owns citrus groves and cattle ranches in Central Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida and his family lives in his grandfather's old house in Bartow.

His mop of red hair and Southern drawl give him a Mayberry effect. He is resigning from his U.S. House seat after five terms to run for agriculture commissioner to, as he says, "return to my roots." It is a by-the-book move for an ambitious politician who has risen through the ranks. A statewide run for this cabinet post would put him in line to run for governor in the future.

Scott, in contrast, is coming into politics fresh and aiming straight for the top. A Kansas City native, he moved to Naples seven years ago, the minimum time necessary to run for governor. A truck driver's son and entrepreneur, he made his millions building a hospital empire, Columbia/HCA, and now owns an investment company.

With his tall frame and bald head, the 57-year-old political novice has become instantly recognizable thanks to the power of television. Scott's bid for the Republican nomination for governor is his first attempt to win elective office.

Scott and Putnam are running for different positions, but made for interesting foils as their campaigns followed the same path for a six-county tour that began in Chipley and ended in Pensacola.

At each event, Scott spoke first, Putnam followed. And Scott always drew the most attention.

By the time Putnam took the microphone, the crowd dwindled. A horde of voters and reporters, including one from the Wall Street Journal, encircled Scott as Putnam spoke to the few remaining.

"The guy running for governor leaves and you're done," Putnam joked at the first event when a TV cameraman went running after Scott. "The story of running for agriculture commissioner."

Putnam delivered a stronger campaign speech — spending half the time explaining what an agriculture commissioner does — but Scott held the star power thanks to his ubiquitous TV commercials.

"I get recognized everywhere I go now," said a bemused Scott.

• • •

At the barbecue restaurant, Scott finished his brisket and went to visit Putnam.

Scott asked about the campaign's progress and the two candidates made small talk until Putnam's son, Hughes, came back from the bathroom.

"Hey, you took my seat," the 4-year-old said to a surprised Scott, who grabbed another chair.

Soon, the candidates finished lunch and departed for yet another speech at an outdoor amphitheater downtown, a historic place where intellectuals from across the nation met yearly a century ago as part of the Chautauqua movement.

A good bit of partisanship, less thoughtful contemplation, took center stage on this day. Scott spoke, Putnam followed. The sparse crowd sat clumped in the shade weathering the 100-degree heat and sporadically showed interest in stump speeches.

When the candidates finished, the crowd came alive for a cake auction, complete with a fast-talking auctioneer. The top prize: a red-white-and blue two-layer cake covered in butter cream icing and topped with homemade orange-flavored fondant and fondant accents.

Putnam and company's RV honked farewell as it departed for the next stop.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Old Florida grace meets new Florida haste as candidates cross paths in the Panhandle 06/25/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 25, 2010 11:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Video: Loggerhead sea turtle found in Islamorada resident's pool

    Wildlife

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on Monday, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys.

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on June 22, 2017, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys. [Photo from video]

  2. What Wilson Ramos will mean to the Rays lineup, pitching

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer was stumping for all-star votes for Corey Dickerson during a live interview Wednesday morning on the MLB Network when he lifted the right earpiece on his headset and said, "I hear a buffalo coming."

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (40) waves to the crowd after being presented with the Silver Slugger Award before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
  3. Deon Cain, Duke Dawson, Derrick Nnadi among SI's top 100 players

    Blogs

    Sports Illustrated's countdown of the top 100 players in college football continues with three more local players.

  4. She doesn't care if you accept her, as long as you respect her

    Human Interest

    Mary Jane Taylor finds strength walking quietly among the dead.

    Mary Jane Taylor,18, visits Oaklawn Cemetery in downtown Tampa when she is feeling low. "When I hit my low points in life I go the the graveyard," she says. "people are afraid of the graveyard. I love the graveyard." The transgender teen recently graduated from Jefferson High School. She is  enrolled in summer classes at Santa Fe College in Gainesville studying international business. She plans to transfer to the University of Florida, attend law school and become a civil rights lawyer. (JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times)
  5. Few new details in state investigation of Tarpon Springs officer-involved shooting of Nick Provenza

    Public Safety

    TARPON SPRINGS — An investigative report, released this week by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, into the officer-involved shooting that killed 25-year-old Nick Provenza included largely the same narrative prosecutors released this month that ruled the shooting a "justifiable homicide."

    Stopping while riding by on his bike Michael Prater, 15, hangs his head after looking at the memorial at Safford and Tarpon avenues for Nick Provenza, a 25-year-old who was shot and killed there during a car show Saturday by a Tarpon Springs police officer. Investigators said Provenza pulled a knife on the cop who shot him. Friends find it hard to believe a man they described as a peaceful vegan and musician would be capable of such an act. Prater didn't know the victim but was at the car show.