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:
Versus Bondi versus Gelber:
(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.