Rep. Adam Putnam has told the Associated Press that he will give up his safe House seat to run for Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner position.
His decision makes FL-12 the cycle’s sixth open seat, five of which are held by the GOP. There is a same pattern in the Senate, where four of the five retiring Senators are Republicans - a clear sign that life in the minority is not fun for congressional Republicans and that we should expect many more GOP representatives to retire or attempt statewide races they might not otherwise have attempted. (This is something I will discuss in more detail over the next week.)
Putnam was first elected to the House in 2000, at only 26 years old. He quickly rose in the ranks of the GOP leadership and served as the GOP Conference chairman, which made him the third most powerful Republican in the House. He unexpectedly gave up that position last year. He is only 34 now, so he could have risen up high in the seniority ranks at a very young age (by congressional standards).
His decision to run for Agriculture Commissioner is a step towards a gubernatorial run in 2014, so it is in itself a surprising one. But Putnam’s decision is a striking example of a Republican politician who was set to achieve great power in Washington giving up on that path and seeking another one in another city. If representatives like Putnam who have all the time in the world to wait for Republicans to regain a majority are too impatient to stick it out, what must be the state of mind for aging representatives or those who occupy more endangered House seats!
There is also a far more direct (and obvious) reason for the GOP to be concerned: Democrats have a chance to capture FL-12, which is by far the least Republican of the five GOP-held seats that have already opened up.
FL-12 is undoubtedly Republican-leaning. Bush obtained 58% of the vote in 2004. The vote was much closer this year, with McCain beating Obama 51% to 48%. And very importantly, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in this district. In other words, Republicans have the upper-hand, but the district is not conservative enough to warrant complacency (especially after all the massively red seats Democrats conquered over the past three years).
Republicans could have a crowded field - as is appropriate for a seat that they should be able to hold - with a number of state legislators likely to look at the race (state Sen. Paula Dockery, state Rep. Seth McKeel, former state Rep. Dennis Ross, state Rep. Baxter Thompson). Democrats have a number of candidates who could give it a go, whether former state Senator Rick Dantzler (a failed gubernatorial nominee) or the party’s 2006 nominee Doug Tudor.