TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — As voters go to the polls for next week’s primary, two relatively unknown Democrats hope their low-profile campaigns will work to garner them a win against Republican incumbent Pam Bondi.
Neither Perry Thurston, a South Florida legislator and attorney, nor George Sheldon, a former Obama administration official who once worked as deputy attorney general, have raised enough money to buy television ads.
Instead their campaigns have been waged in the trenches as both men have traversed the state to meet with Democratic groups and attend local forums in an effort to drum up attention ahead of the Aug. 26 election. The winner will square off against Bondi and a Libertarian candidate, Bill Wohlsifer.
The two rivals have largely refrained from criticizing each other directly. Instead they have been united in their unfailing criticism of Bondi and the job she has done since taking office in 2011.
They have sharply criticized her for opposing a medical marijuana amendment on the November ballot as well as her fight to retain the state’s ban on same sex marriage.
Both Democrats also contend that Bondi has injected unneeded partisanship into the office, citing the state’s failed legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and her involvement in cases brought by Republican attorneys general across the nation.
Sheldon has faulted Bondi’s decision to refrain from getting actively involved in utility rate cases – a turnaround from the practice that was common among previous attorneys general including two Republicans.
“My view of the office of attorney general is that it really ought to be the people’s lawyer not the governor’s lawyer or the Legislature’s lawyer,” Sheldon said.
Thurston, who unsuccessfully pushed for Medicaid expansion while in the state House, cites Bondi’s opposition to the health care overhaul as well as her push to make it harder for ex-convicts to win back their voting rights as prime reasons for his decision to run for the office.
“I thought the incumbent was not serving the best interests of the people of Florida,” Thurston said.
Bondi, a former prosecutor who has focused on issues such as prescription drug abuse, has been dismissive of the criticism coming from her rivals.
“I have no control over what other people say or do,” Bondi said this week. “I only have control over my actions as attorney general and I’m so proud of what we have done in the state of Florida.”
Sheldon, 67, was first elected 40 years ago to the Florida Legislature. He has spent time in private practice as an attorney, but he was hired as deputy attorney general in 1999 under then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth. He worked for Butterworth again in the Department of Children and Families and was chosen by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to succeed Butterworth. The decision was notable because Crist defeated Sheldon in the 2000 race for education commissioner in which Crist even ran an ad that brought up that his opponent had been arrested in 1984 for DUI.
Sheldon contends his lengthy experience, which includes nearly two years as a top administrator in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is why Democrats should pick him over Thurston.
Thurston, 53, has spent the last eight years in the Legislature, rising to the position of House Democratic leader in his final term. In addition to his push for Medicaid expansion, Thurston was outspoken about Florida’s contentious “stand your ground” law that allows people to use deadly force if they feel their life is threatened.
Thurston worked early in his career as an assistant public defender, but has spent most of his legal career handling public finance and criminal defense cases. He contends that Democrats should pick him over Sheldon to help move the party in a new direction.
“I think George has done a great job, but it’s time for new leadership in Florida, especially in a statewide office,” Thurston said.
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