Rep. Adam Putnam (R)
Florida 12th District
The heart of central Florida is Polk County, filled with lakes and small-to-medium-sized cities: Lakeland, Bartow, Lake Wales, Winter Haven, Frostproof, and Haines City. It is the part of Florida most dependent on agriculture. Strawberries, cattle, and citrus are economic mainstays, although periodic freezes in recent years have persuaded some orange growers to move south or to switch to tomatoes. Still, Polk County remained the largest citrus producer in the state in 2007. Turpentine distilleries, dependent on the big stands of pine, and phosphate mining businesses can be found as well. Proportionately, there are more manufacturing jobs here than almost anywhere else in Florida (though still not very many). In 1929, retired Ladies Home Journal Editor Edward Bok built the most prominent landmarks here: the 205-foot-tall gothic Bok Tower and the surrounding Mountain Lake Sanctuary and gardens. A remnant of old Florida, this area has not become a major retiree haven. Its population grew 20% between 2000 and 2007—an impressive rate by national standards but not compared with other parts of Florida.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 12th Congressional District of Florida includes almost all of Polk County, which holds about 60% of the population. This was the home of Spessard Holland and Lawton Chiles, two legendary Democrats who each served as governor and senator. Even today there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, but Polk County, like most of the Deep South, increasingly votes Republican. In the 2006 governor’s race, Republican Charlie Crist won the county with 56% of the vote. The 12th District also includes a sliver of Osceola County and the rapidly growing suburbs east of Tampa in Republican-leaning Hillsborough County—such places as Brandon, home to strip malls and younger, pro-business families. Overall, this district is becoming reliably Republican. It voted 58% for President Bush in 2004. And in the locally hard-fought 2008 campaign, Republican John McCain narrowly beat Democrat Barack Obama 50%-49%.
Rep. Adam Putnam (R)
Elected: 2000, 5th term.
Born: July 31, 1974, Bartow .
Education: U. of FL, B.S. 1995.
Family: Married (Melissa); 4 children.
Elected office: FL House of Reps., 1996-2000.
Professional Career: Rancher, Putnam Groves, Inc.
The congressman from the 12th District is Adam Putnam, a Republican first elected in 2000 at age 26. He grew up in Polk County, a fifth-generation member of a Bartow family that has been prominent in cattle ranching and citrus growing in the area. Interested in politics from childhood, Putnam graduated from the University of Florida, plotting his first political campaign while still in his senior year. In 1996, he was elected to the state House at age 22 and went on to become chairman of the Agriculture Committee. In 2000, when Republican Rep. Charles Canady kept his term-limit pledge, Putnam ran and was unopposed in the Republican primary. He supported most of the Republican agenda: He opposed abortion rights and gun control, he called for lowering the capital-gains tax, and he favored a missile defense system for the United States. In the general election, Putnam had a tough challenger in auto dealer and first-time candidate Michael Stedem, who said Putnam did not have enough life experience for the job. Stedem’s message gained some traction; Putnam was ridiculed in the press. “Putnam is 26 and looks as if he’s going on 13,” The Tampa Tribune wrote in October 2000, in a story headlined, “Opie runs for Congress.” But he won the seat 57%-43%.
|Adam Putnam (R)||185,698||(57%)||($2,054,571)|
|Doug Tudor (D)||137,465||(43%)||($121,851)|
|Adam Putnam (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (70%), 2004 (65%), 2002 (100%), 2000 (57%)
In the House, Putnam has been a star among the chamber’s Republicans. When the GOP was in the majority, he rose through the ranks quickly, from subcommittee chairman to the third-ranking post in the leadership. After the party lost its majorities in Congress, Putnam found his influence in the House diminished. In early 2009, Putnam announced he would vacate his House seat in 2010 to run for state agriculture commissioner. Success in that post could become a springboard for his ambition to become Florida’s governor.
Except for free-trade legislation, which usually finds him on the protectionist-prone side of the citrus industry, Putnam has been a reliably conservative vote in the House. He also earned a footnote in history on September 11, 2001, when he happened to be with President Bush during a visit to an elementary school in Sarasota. After word of the terrorist attacks reached the president’s entourage, Putnam was hustled aboard Air Force One and flown to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Bush discussed his options that morning with Putnam and then-Rep. Dan Miller from Florida’s 13th District. The two lawmakers then returned to Washington on another plane.
In 2003, Putnam became chairman of the Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations, and Census Subcommittee of the Government Reform Committee, making him the youngest subcommittee chair in the post-World War II era. In early 2006, he defeated three other candidates to become chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. House Speaker Dennis Hastert tasked him to develop the GOP’s partisan approach on immigration policy, and he helped to broker the deal to permit limited oil drilling off the coast of Florida. Later that year, Putnam defeated three opponents to become chairman of the Republican Conference, the third-ranking leadership position in the minority. In that post, he formed a rapid-response team and assembled a new communications strategy that focused on small media markets. He said his party’s challenge was to get noticed against the backdrop of a Democratic majority, a presidential election cycle, and “the historical nature of a woman speaker.”
He also stayed in tune with matters of local importance. After hurricanes ravaged parts of Florida in 2004, Putnam worked to secure $500 million in federal disaster relief for the state’s agricultural industry. And he has maintained a strong interest in legislation affecting agriculture.
He often went his own way on issues. Putnam pushed for broad immigration reform, including tougher enforcement, and told the Lakeland Ledger that constituents had told him the nation was “losing our cultural identity.” He also supported Bush’s proposal to increase the number of guest workers, based partly on his own family’s hiring experiences. In 2007, he was among the early Republicans calling on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to step down, telling The Ledger that his credibility in running the Justice Department had been “severely damaged” after revelations that U.S. attorneys around the country may have been dismissed for political reasons. His outspoken support for the 2008 bailout of the financial markets angered some conservatives.
Putnam is planning to run for Florida agriculture commissioner. The early Democratic frontrunner for the seat was Polk County Elections Supervisor Lori Edwards. On the Republican side, former state lawmaker Dennis Ross also announced in early 2009 that he intends to run.