George Sheldon's Back in Charlie Crist's Shadow
Around the State
Charlie Crist and George Sheldon will be at the top of the Democratic ticket this year, a strange fate for these former rivals and current allies. As he takes on Pam Bondi in the fall, Sheldon won't be able to eclipse Crist who is running against Rick Scott.
Crist and Sheldon clashed in the 2000 elections when they were both running to be education commissioner. Unlike the presidential election in Florida that year, the contest wasn’t particularly close as Crist went on to beat Sheldon by 7 percent in the general election. Crist, then a Republican, bombarded Sheldon with attack ads back in 2000, hitting the Democrat on everything from being soft on drugs and for a drunk driving incident from years before.
They could have clashed again two years later. That time out, Crist set his eyes on being attorney general and went on to win the Republican nomination. Despite being Bob Butterworth’s deputy attorney general, Sheldon never gained much traction in 2002 when he ran for his boss’s job. Sheldon came in last in the three-man Democratic primary, finishing behind Buddy Dyer, who went on to lose to Crist, and Scott Maddox.
As the years went by and Crist moved on to being governor, Sheldon resurfaced -- this time, surprisingly enough, as a member of his old rival’s administration. Crist named Butterworth to head up the Department of Children and Families. Sheldon tagged along for his old boss as his deputy once again. When Butterworth left DCF, Sheldon moved up to fill the vacant position.
Despite their previous acrimony, Sheldon proved a loyal trooper for Crist and he used the position to head to Washington. Sheldon was a member of the Obama administration as acting assistant secretary for children and families in the federal department of Health and Human Services and left last fall to run against Bondi.
In spite of his experience and credentials, both of which are admittedly impressive, Sheldon has always come off as the type of politician who does better being appointed to office than winning it in his own right. Even his strong showing against Perry Thurston in Tuesday’s primary doesn’t change that.
Sheldon certainly possesses an earnest and intelligent public persona, which means, in all likelihood, he’ll get eclipsed by the much more charming and charismatic Crist. Even after mulling over a run for governor in 2010, in all his years on the political stage, Sheldon never really stepped into a leading role and that’s not going to change now. Sheldon has always carried somebody else’s coat, be it Reubin Askew’s, Butterworth’s and now, of all people, the man who defeated him back in 2010. Being lumped together on the same ticket is just the latest twist in the odd and tangled political careers of Charlie Crist and George Sheldon.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.