John Morgan vs. Adam Putnam? GOP supporters hedge bets in governor's race

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, July 10, 2017, 11:16 PM EDT

It's the biggest wildcard in Florida's 2018 gubernatorial race: will Orlando power lawyer and prolific Democratic fundraiser John Morgan become a candidate?

  • Putnam supporters use Morgan2018.com to fundraise for Adam Putnam
  • Trying to position John Morgan as possible Democratic candidate
  • Morgan has not announced a run for governor yet

Supporters of the leading Republican contender, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, appear to be hedging their bets, going so far as to buy the web address "Morgan2018.com" and redirect visitors to Putnam's site.

The tactic, not uncommon in the early stages of marquee races that could feature political newcomers like Morgan, is a clear indication that Republican strategists are preparing a battle plan for what might be a highly competitive general election matchup between the two men.

While Morgan has been reserved in his public comments about Putnam, who has held political office for most of his adult life, he offered a half-joking critique of the web address redirect, asking Putnam in a Friday tweet: 

While three major Democratic candidates have already entered the gubernatorial contest, their fundraising has been dwarfed by Putnam's. His campaign and an associated political committee have so far raised in excess of $13 million. That figure, though, could be easily matched by Morgan, whose personal injury law practice has netted him a fortune -- and the statewide name recognition to go with it.

While in Tallahassee last week to file a legal challenge of the medical marijuana smoking ban passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, Morgan told reporters he plans to take his time in deciding on whether to enter the 2018 race. While most candidates are compelled to attend meet-and-greet "coffee clutches," he suggested that rule need not apply to him.

"I own racehorses, and when I go to the races, you usually have to bet on the race before the race starts. But I'm going to have the advantage of, let the race take off, come all the way around, and I don't have to make a decision 'til the horses are all coming down the stretch," Morgan said. "Wouldn't you love to bet that way?"

But the early activation of the Republican establishment's opposition research machine could force Morgan to accelerate his timetable. The morgan2018.com site could morph into a depository of anti-Morgan propaganda that, left unanswered, might prove damaging to his prospects should he decide to run.

"I think it's more just trying to take away a potential asset from John Morgan himself, but I do think we may start seeing more actions to try to, maybe, draw Morgan out and show his hand a little bit more," said Republican strategist Chris Cate. "Because by taking these steps and maybe treat him like a candidate, then John Morgan has to respond like a candidate."

Morgan, however, has shown little appetite for political convention. He's frequently compared to President Trump, whose outsider status and brash vocabulary helped net him the White House. The same model could well be fashioned by Morgan in a campaign for the Governor's Mansion.

"When's the last time that Tallahassee has ever done anything -- anything -- to help you?" Morgan asked a gathering of conservative-leaning voters in Pensacola in January, as he began mulling a gubernatorial bid.

Top candidates who have declared so far for the Democrats include former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King. 

A full list of candidates who have declared for a gubernatorial run can be see on the Florida Division of Elections website.