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Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: A star is born — or not — in Bondi

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:27 PM

We know how much Republicans hate President Obama's heath care plan. That's not news. But since the Supreme Court upheld the law, the GOP's best chance to get rid of it hinges on getting its guy elected. They may mention that once or twice during the national convention in our fair city.

Gotta be careful, though. Our nation tends to have attention deficit on issues of substance, so an imaginary checklist of how best to take advantage of a limited-time opportunity might look like this:

The spokesperson would have to command attention and be comfortable in the national glare. Since the GOP will try to convince Americans that it is right, that person would have to have national standing on the issue and name recognition.

So it was a no-brainer to give Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi a speaking spot at the convention. That's just what happened Wednesday, and it works on multiple levels.

You want to start with a good storyline, so here's one: Bondi is the local girl turned rising star for the GOP, stating her case to the country from a podium in her home town.

OK, we don't know for sure what she will speak about, but we can take a guess without too much fear of being wrong.

Bondi, as the lead attorney in the battle to overturn the Affordable Health Care Act, became the face of opposition. Even though her side lost in front of the Supremes, Bondi's profile has continued to rise.

She has the background, too, to engage a national audience. She is the daughter of a former mayor of Temple Terrace and a graduate of King High School, the University of Florida and Stetson Law.

She learned her craft with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office before winning the election in 2010 to be Florida's top attorney.

That's where the fight over health care put her on the front line of a nationwide debate and made her the new darling of conservatives.

"She is the real deal," Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober said. "She is very genuine, engaging with people, and she is honest as the day is long. Her life is a whirlwind these days, I know that, but she has what it takes to make people listen."

This could be the start of something big. Or not.

"She can probably go anywhere she wants politically, but I don't think she's thinking about that," former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said.

"We have been friends for a long time and I know her as very sincere and dedicated.

"But even when I ask her privately about her plans for the future, she just tells me she is concentrating on doing the best job she can as attorney general and she isn't interested in anything else."

Big national gatherings can send careers off in new directions, though, so we'll wait to see how that plays out.

What isn't in dispute, though, is Bondi's status as a rising Republican star on a national stage.

"Whatever she says will be honest, sold with a smile," Greco said.

"And it will be something she truly believes in."


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