George Sheldon Considering Bid for Attorney General
Around the State
Veteran Florida Democratic politico George Sheldon, currently a high-ranking U.S. Health and Human Services official, is mulling a run next year against Attorney General Pam Bondi, citing her “continuing to beat the drum on the Affordable Care Act,” as chief among the reasons for challenging the popular incumbent.
Sheldon, the HHS Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, works for the agency trying to implement the federal health care law.
Sheldon said he will make a decision about whether to take on the popular incumbent by the end of the year and would resign from his HHS post prior to entering the race.
Sheldon’s lengthy public-service resume includes serving eight years in the state House and as deputy attorney general for Central Florida under former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. In 2000, he lost a statewide campaign for education commissioner against Charlie Crist, who later appointed him as secretary of the Department of Children and Families. Sheldon also served as an associate dean at St. Thomas Law School.
Sheldon said he hasn’t spoken with Crist, who also served as attorney general, about a possible run. But he has consulted Butterworth, a close friend whom he worked under at DCF. Sheldon said Butterworth told him he “wants somebody who’s independent and can use that office independently.”
Sheldon and other Democrats acknowledge that it will be difficult to beat Bondi, a former prosecutor who regularly appears on Fox News and had the backing of the Florida Chamber of Commerce in her first run for office in 2010.
“It would be extremely tough. There’s no question of that,” Sheldon said.
He praised Bondi for her work fighting human trafficking, something Sheldon attacked during his tenure at DCF.
But Democratic strategist Screven Watson believes Bondi, who took up the multistate lawsuit against the Obama administration over the federal health care law and has been openly critical of last year’s Supreme Court decision upholding the requirement that individuals purchase insurance or face penalties, is vulnerable.
"Bondi came in in (2010) on a tea party wave along with Sen. Rubio and the governor. And while most of America and most Floridians seemed to tire of that wave, and the governor and Sen. Rubio seemed to acknowledge that and moderate, she didn’t,'' said Watson, a former Florida Democratic Party executive director. “She didn’t get the moderation memo. She just kept her foot on the accelerator."
That could backfire with independent voters, the fastest-growing portion of the electorate in Florida who are critical in winning statewide elections, Watson said.
“Florida is a purple state, a moderate state, and there’s probably room for a moderate candidate for attorney general. This gives George the opportunity to highlight where she is, which is on the extreme right of the scale,” he said. “She has drawn a circle for herself on the right and that would give a moderate candidate the ability to push her to the extreme.”
Recruiting candidates to run against incumbents in the midterm elections when Republicans typically outperform Democrats is a challenge, Broward County Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar said. But a strong Democratic gubernatorial candidate might help, he said. Thus far, former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich is the only prominent Democrat who has announced a gubernatorial candidacy. But many, including Ceasar, expect Crist to run.
“If people feel confident that we have a very good chance to win the governorship, you will get more people willing to run for statewide posts and the quality will increase as well. And because people think we do have a decent chance in the top race, I think that gives us a much bigger opportunity to bring out fresh faces,” Ceasar, a one-time state party chairman, said.
Money will also be an issue, Sheldon acknowledged. Republican Party of Florida contributions this year have outstripped the Democratic Party's contributions by more than four times, according to state campaign finance records.
Sheldon said his current job has kept him from reaching out to potential donors but that he has been “encouraged by people who have voluntarily stepped forward.”
Sheldon, whose job is based in Washington, D.C., still owns two houses in Florida and calls Tallahassee home.
“The job I’ve got right now isn’t bad. Opportunities to serve at the national level don’t come along that often,” he said. But, he said, “There’s a lot of allure to Florida … Clearly I miss Florida. I care about Florida. But I’ve seen a lot of the country. This has been an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.”