Agriculture Comm. Putnam a winner during RNC week

Who’s the winner of Republican National Convention week, Florida good-will division? Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, by a landslide.

Putnam hosted daily breakfasts at Innisbrook, the golf resort in far-flung Palm Harbor where the Florida delegation was exiled for its primary-date sins. There’s no better way to win hearts and minds than with steak, eggs, coffee and orange juice. Plenty of juice. (“We serve it in a jug, not a jigger, so drink plenty,” Putnam said.)

An important exemption: This is being written before Thursday night’s final convention session where former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio are both going to speak. It’s quite possible one or both could eclipse anyone else, including nominee Mitt Romney.

Putnam volunteered for his role as host of the daily breakfasts.

He was cheerleader-in-chief for Florida agriculture by definition of his office, but he comes by it naturally and plugged for Florida produce at the Fresh From Florida breakfasts.

He was comic relief for a stressful event, first because of Tropical Storm Isaac and then when logistical failures by the convention resulted in hours-long bus rides to and from the convention.

“I’m just glad I’m in charge of breakfast and not the bus service,” Putnam said. 
He welcomed members of the South Carolina delegation, also housed more than 30 miles from downtown because they had an early primary with “partners in primary purgatory.”

Cracks about how far the delegation was from the convention site were constant, but at the end of the week Putnam made sure he graciously acknowledged the party’s hosts at Innisbrook, praised the resort and encouraged everyone to spend plenty of money.

Putnam said his morning stand-up routine was “mostly off the cuff. We called a lot of audibles.”

The standards of comedy and wit in politics are pretty low, but even taking that into account, Putnam was affable and engaging. He made sure to recognize the elected officials, candidates and other VIPs.

Finally, He was recruiter extraordinaire for speakers at the breakfasts, drawing on his five-term service in Congress for contacts. He insisted it was not his sales-pitch that closed the deals to land New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Ambassador John Bolton, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy from California and Rep. Kathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state.
“They sought you out,” he told the group. “It was an easy invitation to make.”

He said the import of Florida, the reputation of its grass-roots activists, made them an attractive audience to political aspirants.

Gov. Rick Scott was kept away from the convention keeping track of Isaac. CFO Jeff Atwater was visible throughout the week, and Attorney General Pam Bondi had her moment center stage at the convention. But Putnam may be the ultimate winner among Florida’s Cabinet.

“Adam Putnam is a rock star,” said Robert Coker of West Palm Beach. His comment was unsolicited. I was walking by his table at the final breakfast when I overheard it and stopped to talk further.

On Wednesday, Putnam spoke at the Great American Farm Lunch.

“When I heard his speech, I had goose bumps,” Coker said.

Putnam is chairman of Romney’s Florida campaign as well as serving the same role with Farmers and Ranchers for Romney.

“Don’t play it safe, we need total victory,” Putnam said at the lunch.

The first-term ag commissioner, five-term congressman and two-term member of the Florida House is also a fifth-generation Floridian in the citrus and cattle business. If Romney wins in November, Putnam’s probably secretary of agriculture.
Unless his future looks brighter in Florida.

Paul Flemming
FLORIDA TODAY

5:05 PM, Aug 30, 2012
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