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Bondi Embraces Anti-Incumbent Fervor

Former Hillsborough County prosecutor Pam Bondi thought her lack of political experience would hurt her when she decided to run for attorney general.

But she says it has turned into one of her greatest assets in a year where “career politician” has become a poison pill for some candidates and the title “political novice” a winning catch phrase. While the state’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races have gotten most of the attention for their outsider candidates, the anti-insider phenomenon is trickling down to other races.

“People are embracing the fact that I'm not part of the [Charlie] Crist administration,” said Bondi, who worked under five different state attorneys, but never ran for the top job.

Naples businessman Rick Scott entered the governor's race in April and has broadsided Attorney General Bill McCollum with TV ads all summer. McCollum, despite 20 years in Congress and four years in the Attorney General's office, is lagging behind Scott, who has never held elected office, by 13 points in a recent poll. Likewise, South Florida millionaire Jeff Greene poured money into the Senate Democratic primary, touting his outside credentials, and is beating four-term congressman Kendrick Meek in polls.

The attorney general's race suffers from lack of recognition from many voters though and makes it difficult to predict how far Bondi's outside status could ultimately take her. A recent poll conducted by Voter Survey Service of Harrisburg, Pa. and commissioned by Sunshine State News, found 55 percent of voters are undecided in the race.

The poll, which surveyed 1,345 likely Republican voters from July 26-30, gave 17 percent to Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, 16 percent to Bondi and 12 percent to Holly Benson, a former secretary of two state agencies and former lawmaker. The margin of error is 2.67 percent.

Bondi, a University of Florida and Stetson Law School graduate, has worked as a prosecutor for 18 years, stepping down recently when she decided to run for attorney general. She had few fundraising contacts prior to running, she said, but has amassed a war chest of $724,269. In comparison, Kottkamp has raised a total of $1.14 million thus far and Benson has raised $844,739, according to the latest campaign finance records.

But she has been able to capitalize on her lack of political experience. She's been using social media to reach grassroots supporters, talking up major Republican points and touting her outsider status, while still noting her legal career. She's won endorsements so far from a few newspaper editorial boards and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

She's also telling voters that she doesn't see the job as a political stepping stone.

“I don't want to run for governor,” she said. “I don't want to be a congresswoman. I don't want to be a senator. I just want to be the best attorney general, if the people will have me, for eight years. And that's it.”

Despite various backgrounds – Kottkamp was a defense and trial lawyer before serving in the Legislature and as lieutenant governor, and Benson was a municipal bond attorney, lawmaker and headed the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation – the three candidates in the Republican primary have similar viewpoints. All would continue the state's involvement in a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the president's health care plan. And the three candidates all back immigration reform.

Kottkamp and Benson are trumpeting their respective state government backgrounds in counter to Bondi's prosecutor background.

Kottkamp pushed his involvement with various boards as attorney general during an interview with the News Service last month, in addition to his career as an attorney. And Benson has said that being a courtroom attorney is not as relevant to the job as leading a large staff of attorneys, as she did at DBPR and AHCA.

“It goes back to my experience is relevant,” Benson told the News Service. “And if you look at the record, neither Charlie Crist or Bill McCollum (a former and the current attorney general) went to court. This is a challenge of leadership and experience.”

1 Responses »

  1. Bondi is awesome. Florida could benefit enormously by having a tough, conservative career-prosecutor as Attorney General.

    You can't help but get the feeling that the position would just be a stepping stone for either Kottkamp or Benson, and we have already suffered enough at the hands of career politicians.