The Race for Attorney General in Florida: Issues, Ground Games, and Money

The race for attorney general is getting far less press attention than the dogfight for Governor between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, however, the implications of this race could be just as important for the people of Florida.  There are stark contrasts between these two candidates, as Pam Bondi is a product of the current Republican leadership and George Sheldon is a product of old Florida politics that harkens back to the Askew and Graham days. The major issues will be Pam Bondi’s support of “traditional” marriage and her opposition to medical marijuana, which will be on the ballot as Amendment 2. One of the main points will be Pam Bondi’s close relationship with Rick Scott and her strong support for his policies. The Legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid is also expected to be a predominant talking point, although Rick Scott came out in favor of expansion and Pam Bondi followed suit, but neither did anything on the issue. The growing Duke Energy controversy in the Tampa Bay area will surely come up, as George Sheldon already pushed that issue aggressively before the primary. To a lesser extent, the issues of environmental protection could play a factor, as well as the controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.

A fixture in public policy here in Florida for three decades, George Sheldon an advantage in experience, yet Pam Bondi’s younger and fresher presence is surprisingly popular and she has become and important figure in the National Republican Party. This race is far more unpredictable than the governor’s race due that there are so many outside factors effecting this race, including the popularity of Amendment 2 and the overwhelming popularity of marriage equality in this state. In the end, it will be the get-out-the-vote efforts to determine who wins instead of the traditional battle over undecided voters. What is clear is that this election will be a turnout war, and exciting each candidates base will be the key.

The big question in this race will be the get-out-the-vote efforts of both camps. Although Pam Bondi has every tactical campaign advantage on her side, she does stand on the unpopular side of several key policy issues, one of which will be on the ballot.   The Affordable Care Act will also surely be an issue, as she led the lawsuit to attempt to get it appealed and George Sheldon worked in the Obama administration in Health and Human Services when it was rolling it out. It will be interesting politically to see how much sway the ACA has in state politics five years after its passage; while there is still high opposition to the ACA here in Florida (Tampa Bay Times reported a poll that 37% of Floridians want the law repealed), there were also record number of enrollments.

Experience comparisons will no doubt play a role as well. George Sheldon has run for office many times in Florida and has been a fixture on the political scene for the last 35 years. He started off as the legislative aide to Reubin Askew and served himself as a state representative from the Tampa area from 1974 to 1982. He ran for Congress soon after and failed to win. In an interesting historical oddity, he actually ran against Charlie Crist in 2000 for Education Commissioner before the post was abolished in 2002  (As Kartik pointed out in Flashback Friday piece).  Pam Bondi never held elected office before running for Attorney General in 2010. Her father had sevred as Mayor of Temple Terrace however, giving her name ID in Hillsborough County. Nonetheless, even with her lack of elected experience and name recognition, Pam Bondi substantially beat Dan Gelber by a much wider margin than Rick Scott beat Alex Sink (55% vs his 41%). While Sheldon won his primary decisively against House Minority Leader Perry Thurston  and there are no current polls out yet, Bondi performed well in the few polls taken over the summer, which merely pitted her against a generic Democratic candidate.

The main driver in  this race will be money. Pam Bondi has significant advantage here, as she has made her way up National Republican leadership and sits upon several leadership boards, which gives her access to donors well outside her Florida circles. While Sheldon also has ties to the Obama administration and Washington, Democratic pocketbooks in Washington are running empty due to the fact the party is trying to hold on to the US Senate at all costs in a tough environment.

In her election in 2010, Pam Bondi outperformed Scott significantly.  In a surprise turn, Dan Gelber performed significantly lower in the panhandle region – specifically the area around Tallahassee, which usually has a high Democratic performance rating. Because Alex Sink has adapted a smaller county strategy, she was able to perform better than Gelber (although not enough to pull of a win).  Since Sheldon is from Tallahassee, his name recognition there will surely help, but it will be interesting to see which counties he chooses to campaign in.

To compare, Scott vs. Sink:

2010-gov

Versus Bondi versus Gelber:

2010-ag-race

(Maps from Matt’s Maps available here)

As you can see, Sheldon has a lot of ground to make-up and he should be fearful of an under vote in his race, as many in 2010 cast a vote in the Governor’s race and skipped the attorney’s general’s race altogether or switched to Bondi.  Democrats have to learn to vote for partisans down ballot!     He has to expand his presence in Tampa Bay area, as well as pick up more South Florida votes in order to pull this off.  While it is a long shot and he no doubt will be outspent, the people of Florida would be much better off without Pam Bondi.  If  Crist gets elected and Sheldon wins, the Democrats will  have the majority vote in the cabinet because the Governor’s vote breaks the tie.   This is a powerful weapon and something the Democrats haven’t seen since before the 1998 election.

DISCLAIMER:  TFS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF KARTIK KRISHNAIYER IS SERVING AS THE DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR THE SHELDON CAMPAIGN. HE DID NOT CONTRIBUTE TO THIS STORY.

17 comments

  1. sending a message · · Reply

    This race was very winnable but George Sheldon is the wrong candidate who has a bad campaign. No offense towards Krishnaiyer because he’s one of the few competent ones over there in the Sheldon campaign but the campaign has attracted every malcontent in the Democratic Party and has neglected the opportunity to create a statewide structure. The candidate himself has the highest burn rate of any candidate running for state office will probably even county office in any serious race. If someone is abrasive , incompetent or confrontational they seem to of gotten a job in the Sheldon campaign. Again no offense towards Krishnaiyer because he seems to be the most competent one over there. Of course were this the Crist campaign where the real talent is KK would be the leading malcontent. But in the Sheldon campaign he’s quite possibly the leading light. That should tell you something.

    The polling I have seen indicates Sheldon can win. But he’s not going to win with the type of people he has on his campaign and his burn rate.

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  2. Blue Dog Dem · · Reply

    I give Sheldon tons of credit. He’s engaged north Florida. Was in Marianna last week, went to the Possum festival and has traveled the panhandle. Crist on the other hand has parked himself in south Florida where people may or may not vote and they don’t feel like floridians. The democrats in the panhandle need a reason to come home to the party of their ancestors but Obama & Crist have failed to even attempt to do this.

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    1. Sheldon running his campaign out of Tallahassee when the vast majority of the Democratic voters in the state are south of Orlando makes no sense. Does anyone wonder why Charlie Crist is splitting operations between St Pete and Fort Lauderdale?

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  3. Sheldon’s love affair with moderate Republicans does not help either:

    http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/somebody-tell-george-sheldon-hes-misread-gop-70s-are-over

    So true. Do what Crist is doing. Work the base!!!

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  4. George Sheldon is a man of integrity and contrasted with Pam Bondi, a shameless pawn of Scott/the worst elements of the FL GOP, he should prevail. One would hope that ordinary FL voters have noticed the lame-brained antics of Bondi over the last 3 years and reject her shamelessly extreme partisanship in an office that should be devoid of partisan politics! Her background is she was the flunkie for the Attilla-theHun Hillsborough County state attorney for years. Ordinary Floridians are weary of the outside-influenced (read ALEC here) GOP extremists tilting at the windmills of lost causes such as outlawing abortion, providing concealed guns to every citizen–ugh! Get these nuts out of my state government, please, and give us a well-grounded George Sheldon!

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  5. First of all, Sheldon doesn’t really meet the Constitutional eligibility. Don’t think the Republicans didn’t notice. Second, you completely failed to mention the strongest Amendment 2 candidate in the race: Bill Wohlsifer. He drafted the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act and the community knows him well. Cannamoms are behind him and so are dozens of other groups. Be sure to watch the debates – at lease those organizers know who’s running. How did you miss that news? Wohlsifer is also principled, smart, and down to earth. He’s a candidate by, of and for we the people. BillW2014.com

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  6. ROFL, Bill Wohlsifer is going to kick both of these candidacies to the curb! The fact you don’t even mention him is the KEY to his win…you two R and D’s are nothing more but the same ole same ole. Bill Wohlsifer has this race SEWN UP. He is the KING of Cannabis, wrote the Cathy Jordan Bill. He is the MOST experienced, well balanced, serious Attorney General this state could ever hope for. Wohlsifer ROCKS at the Rule of Law and Due Process and will see to it that both are upheld. He is THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE and he will go to Bat For You and Your Family! Vote Bill Wohlsifer on November 4th, the only SANE CHOICE!

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    1. The “Oh he would be great but nobody knows about him” is always a hard sell.

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      1. The people will know him after the debate October 6. How about FAU? Does Mr. Sheldon still have to wait on Ms. Bondi to make up his mind?

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  7. Well at least the disclaimer tells the partisanship. There are 3 qualified candidates, although I question the judges decision as to Mr. Sheldon’s delinquency in bar membership and his time spent in DC as a bureaucrat. Other than that all 3 paid the near $8000 to qualify, all 3 have now been determined to meet the residency and bar requirements for the race. In terms of real world experience I dare you to compare Bill Wohlsifer to Ms. Bondi and Mr. Sheldon. I double dare you. You won’t because you already know he is at the top of his profession. He is the also the only one that is connected with the issues and needs of the people of this state. He also has a pretty good underground following despite the purposeful exclusion of main stream media and other publications. He is also included in the debates on October 6, and the general public will finally have a chance to meet him after the refusal of so called journalists to cover his race. Since this article saw fit to omit information you can learn about Bill at http://www.BillW2014.com.

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    1. Wouldn’t it be nice if Florida’s “news” media would do their jobs, and cover ALL the candidates? They seem to have confused themselves with handicappers, which has effectively turned them into partisans. Anyway, it would be nice if, for once, Libertarians didn’t have to come along like this & do the remedial Journalism 101…

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  8. I think when people research the candidates they’ll find Bill Wohlsifer the superior candidate for the office of Florida’s Attorney General. Won’t have to pander to special interests or groups – or party bosses – like the other 2. Isn’t a career bureaucrat, and is an actual practicing trial attorney of merit. has worked for causes pro bono – like crafting legislation for medical marijuana and industrial hemp. Reseach Wohlsifer, you’ll like him a lot!

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  9. Wyllie and Wohlsifer are the ONLY choices! I’m done with the 2 party system.

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  10. Since this article saw fit to omit information you can learn about Bill at http://www.BillW2014.com.

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  11. Christopher M. Kennard · · Reply

    I recall George Sheldon from years past, and always considered him one of the more honest people in state office when the Democratic Party ran Florida. Compared to the current very corrupt Republicans now running office, he is a shining light!

    As an Independent Voter, I would support “third party” candidates in all Florida elections except it will mean that we will be stuck with Scott for gov. Bondi for State Attorney and a Republican state legislature again. Florida might not survive the next four years, if we have the situation we now have.

    I am voting to “fire” all corrupt politicians now running for re-election in Florida. That would include Corrine Brown and all Republicans now in office.

    I hope we clean house this November 4th election, and get more honest people in office. I will hold my nose voting for “Chain Gang Charlie” Crist to get rid of Scott. I will vote for Mr. Sheldon, who has been honest in the past. Everyone else in my area, Ocala, Florida, needs to go . . . local, state and federal level of government . . . all need to go!

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  12. Pam Bondi signed on to a lawsuit to oppose the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay! from our Eve Samples. As our state’s top lawyer, Pam Bondi believes she knows what’s best for Floridians.

    So the attorney general is doing her part to kill a cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay.

    Even though the Chesapeake is 800 miles up the Atlantic shore.

    Even though six states and the federal government agreed to science-based pollution limits for the country’s largest estuary.

    Even though the Chesapeake is grappling with the same kinds of pollution the Indian River Lagoon faces.

    If it doesn’t make sense to you, add your name to the growing list of People Perplexed by Pam.
    http://www.tcpalm.com/franchise/indian-river-lagoon/opinion/eve-samples-pam-bondi-wont-back-down-from-bay

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  13. http://www.tcpalm.com/news/local-news/martin-county/eve-samples-attorney-general-pam-bondi-accepts-thousands-from-big-sugar-as-she-fights-water-cleanup_34240236 Eve Samples: Attorney General Pam Bondi accepts thousands from Big Sugar as she fights water cleanup
    n February, Bondi joined top attorneys from 20 other states by filing a “friend of the court” brief in a suit opposing the cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay — some 800 miles up the Atlantic shore.

    In doing so, Bondi thrust our state into a case brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Fertilizer Institute, the National Pork Producers Council and other big agricultural interests.

    “Chesapeake Bay had nothing to do with dirty water,” said Bondi when I asked her about the case Wednesday.

    She called the Environmental Protection Agency’s bay cleanup plan a case of “federal government overreach.”

    But in Florida, we have evidence that the states haven’t done enough to protect our waterways.

    Bondi, as a member of the Florida Cabinet, voted last year to grant no-bid 30-year leases to two large companies farming on state-owned land in the Everglades Agricultural Area — Florida Crystals and A. Duda & Sons.

    The vote came just a few months before the Indian River Lagoon was choked with polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

    Bondi’s challengers have vowed to drop the Chesapeake Bay suit if elected. Both Democrat George Sheldon and Libertarian Bill Wohlsifer disagree with Bondi’s decision to get involved in the out-of-state case.

    Nobody should be surprised by Bondi’s move, though. Glancing through her campaign contributions offers a window onto her allegiances.

    Since July 2013, Bondi’s re-election campaign has received $26,000 from U.S. Sugar Corp., Florida Crystals and companies affiliated with the two cane growers, campaign finance records show.

    Two committees connected to Bondi — Justice for All and the similarly named And Justice for All — also received $10,000 each from U.S. Sugar Corp.

    “I will continue to fight federal government overreach with everything I’ve got,” Bondi vowed in Stuart on Wednesday.

    The contributions Bondi’s environmental track record beg the question:

    Who is she fighting for?

    Eve Samples is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects her opinion. Contact her at 772-221-4217 or eve.samples@scripps.com.

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