In May 2017, he announced he was running for Florida governor in the 2018 election.
Putnam was born in Bartow, Florida, the son of Sarah Elizabeth (née Hughes) and William Dudley Putnam II. He graduated from Bartow High School and attended the University of Florida, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in food and resource economics. While at the University of Florida, Putnam was a brother of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity.
In 1996, Putnam was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, representing parts of Polk County. At 22 years old, he was the youngest person ever elected to the Florida Legislature. He was reelected to a second term in 1998. While in the state house, he served as chair of the Agriculture Committee.
In 2000, Putnam ran for the U.S. House seat being vacated by retiring Congressman Charles Canady. The district, numbered the 12th, included all of Putnam's house constituency as well as other areas of Polk County and rural Central Florida. He faced no opposition in the Republican primary, and defeated Democrat Mike Stedem in the general election, 57 to 43%. Taking office when he was 26 years old, Putnam was the youngest member of Congress from 2001 to 2005. Putnam was reelected in 2002 to a redistricted seat that included most of Polk County as well as parts of neighboring Hillsborough and Osceola Counties. He was reelected three more times after that, serving a total of ten years in Congress.Committee on Financial Services
Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises
Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity
On October 10, 2002, Putnam voted in favor of authorizing the invasion of Iraq.
In February 2006, Putnam became a member of the House leadership, assuming the role of chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, the fifth-ranking Republican leadership position in the House. In November 2006, Putnam was elected by his colleagues as House Republican Conference Chairman, the third-highest ranking position. Following House Republican losses in the 2008 general election, he resigned his post as Conference Chairman. In 2010 The Florida Independent reported that Putnam had earmarked $100,000 for an abscission chemical used in citrus harvesting that The Florida Independent said would benefit his family's citrus business.
Putnam described himself as one of Congress's leading supporters of developmental education for children from low-income families and was the author of the Head Start Accountability Bill. Putnam was also the co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus. He was the youngest member of Congress when he took office in 2001 at age 26, just one year after becoming constitutionally eligible. In 2005, Patrick McHenry, a year younger than Putnam and also a Southern Republican, was elected to Congress. However, McHenry was 29 at his inauguration, meaning of all members of Congress at the time, Putnam had still taken office the earliest in his life. This distinction would hold until Putnam left the House in 2011.
Putnam was a signatory to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
After the numerous calls by Democrats, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Putnam became the top Republican in either house to call for the ouster of former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. "For the good of the nation, I think it is time for fresh leadership at the Department of Justice", Putnam said. This was met with surprise by many Republicans, who were remaining silent on the Gonzales issue. However, Putnam mentioned that there remained severe discontent within the GOP circle over Gonzales and as the Chairman of the House Republican Conference, he thought that it was important to send this message out.
In February 2009, Putnam declared himself a candidate for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture in the 2010 election and that he would not seek a sixth term in Congress. Putnam won the election over Democratic opponent Scott Maddox with 56% of the vote.
Putnam was reelected in 2014.