In Florida, Not All Politics Are Local, as Trump Shapes Governor’s Race

President Trump’s endorsements have influenced the outcomes of primaries across the country this year. Florida’s Republican primary for governor could be next.

SARASOTA, Fla. — The Sarasota County Republican fair and rally last Saturday left little mystery about what is animating the party this year.

There was a “Trump Shop” outside the arena, selling T-shirts extolling the president’s dominance. There was a life-size cardboard cutout of Mr. Trump, both thumbs splayed skyward, greeting visitors inside. And there was a candidate for county commission whose brochure highlighted his ardent support for Mr. Trump in dramatically larger type than his vow to protect Sarasota’s “amazing beaches & parks.”

This Trumpian spectacle was an ominous sign for Adam Putnam, whose main appeal in the Republican primary for governor is to support the candidate “who puts Florida first and knows Florida best.”

Only last month, Mr. Putnam — the state’s agriculture commissioner and a genial conservative tabbed for political stardom since he won a state house seat at 22 — was ahead of Representative Ron DeSantis in fund-raising, local endorsements and opinion polls. But then Mr. Trump bestowed his formal blessing on Mr. DeSantis for the Aug. 28 primary.

Now, as Mr. Trump prepares to appear with Mr. DeSantis at a rally in Tampa Tuesday night, Mr. Putnam is facing a double-digit deficit in the polls and odds so long that even some of his admirers suggest he should stop spending money attacking his rival and begin pondering a comeback after the Trump era has passed.

Mr. Putnam’s collapse and Mr. DeSantis’s rise illustrate the extraordinary clout Mr. Trump now wields in his adopted party, a power so great that the president is effectively able to decide primaries with a single tweet.

In recent weeks, the president has leapt enthusiastically into contested nomination fights, doling out endorsements — sometimes several a day — as part of an immersion into primaries that has caught contestants, Republican officials and in some cases even his own staff by surprise. By taking sides in intraparty disputes in a way his predecessors studiously avoided, Mr. Trump has helped put his favored candidates over the top in Alabama, South Carolina and most recently Georgia, where he helped a hard-right Republican prevail over a more mainstream candidate in the runoff for governor.

And there may be more to come: Mr. Trump recently said he would campaign “six or seven days a week” this fall for vulnerable Republican candidates — though some of them may not want his help in states or districts where he is unpopular.

His intervention in Florida has irritated everyone from grass-roots activists to Republican governors, who worry that Mr. DeSantis’s close ties to the White House will make him a weaker general election candidate than Mr. Putnam. In an interview, Mr. DeSantis declined to name a single issue on which he disagreed with Mr. Trump and said he would enthusiastically welcome him to Florida this fall.

Beyond Mr. Trump’s kingmaking capacity, the rapidly shifting fortunes in the governor’s race also tell a larger and perhaps more consequential story about the role of Fox News in shaping the president’s views, and thereby today’s Republican politics and about the diminished role of local media, especially in a transient state like Florida, and certainly in a primary. Mr. DeSantis’s rise also reflects the broader nationalization of conservative politics, in which a willingness to hurl rhetorical lightning bolts at the left, the media and special counsel Robert S. Mueller can override local credentials, local endorsements and preparedness for a state-based job.

As Mr. Putnam took the microphone at a barbecue near the Georgia border last week between sets of a band performing covers of Waylon Jennings and Lynyrd Skynyrd — reinforcing the maxim that in Florida the further north you go the more south it gets — he argued that the old rules do still apply.

Mr. Trump tweeted favorably about Representative Ron DeSantis’s campaign for governor after seeing him on Fox News last December.

“A Floridian who puts Florida first and knows Florida best needs to be leading our state,” said Mr. Putnam, 43, rattling off how many sheriffs were backing his campaign, boasting of his ability to drive…

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