TAMPA — George Sheldon, who represented the Tampa area in the state House before holding government offices in Tallahassee and Washington, defeated Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale in the Democratic primary for Florida attorney general.
Sheldon earns the right to challenge Republican incumbent Pam Bondi, who also has Tampa connections, in November.
“Now it's on to the tougher race,” Sheldon said Tuesday at the Wine Loft in Tallahassee, where his campaign team gathered to watch returns. “I'm under no illusions about November — we've got a lot of work to do between now and then.”
The attorney general is Florida's top law enforcement officer. The job pays $129,972 a year and includes a seat on the Florida Cabinet.
Sheldon, 67, faces an uphill climb against Bondi, 48, who has raised $2.8 million as of mid-August and had no primary opponent. She grew up in Temple Terrace and is a former Hillsborough County assistant state attorney.
Sheldon has raised $523,000, but spent much of that on the primary. He said he expected the Democratic donor spigot to flow now that the party's representative has been selected.
“There were a lot of people sitting on the fence,” Sheldon said. “I don't think the disadvantage will be as huge as it is right now.”
He has accused Bondi of politicizing the office, noting her high-profile but unsuccessful challenge of President Barack Obama's landmark health care law, her joining a lawsuit challenging an out-of-state plan to clean up Chesapeake Bay, her unsuccessful defense of Florida's ban on gay marriage, and her opposition to medical marijuana.
He said his campaign would now reach out to moderate Republicans and independents. “There are a lot of moderate Republicans who are really concerned about the Everglades, the environment, protecting a woman's right to choose. We'll solidify the Democratic base, but not just run this as a one-party campaign.”
Also on the November ballot is Libertarian Bill Wohlsifer, a Tallahassee lawyer.
Sheldon grew up in Plant City. He was a legislative aide to former Gov. Reubin Askew and represented Tampa in the state House from 1974 to 1982. He was a deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth and served as secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Most recently, he served as acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Thurston, 53, is the outgoing minority leader in the Florida House.
Sheldon's spot on the primary ballot was challenged by a Miami resident who sued over his residency status. Sheldon lived in Washington, D.C. while serving with the Obama administration from 2011-2013, but a Tallahassee judge ruled that he met residency requirements.