TAMPA — The two Democratic candidates for state attorney general, George Sheldon and Perry Thurston, agreed on almost every issue in a Tampa appearance Friday and said their contest would be settled on the question of who’s most likely to beat Pam Bondi.
In a joint appearance at the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa, there were hints one or both might consider dropping out of the race to leave the field clear for the other to challenge Bondi, the Republican incumbent.
Asked whether they’d be willing to end their candidacy, neither said yes, but neither firmly denied it.
“A little competition, frankly, doesn’t hurt us,” Sheldon said. “Hopefully there won’t be a substantial amount of resources spent doing that, but it will all work out.”
“I agree with George,” said Thurston — one of many times the two competitors agreed with and praised each other in their speeches. “We’re both strong Democrats. Without a doubt we will come out of this united and working together.”
Both would be long shots against Bondi, at least according to early fundraising totals.
Sheldon has raised $58,322 since opening his campaign in late October, while Thurston has pulled in $33,815 since Nov. 1.
Bondi, meanwhile, has raised $642,566 for her campaign committee since July, plus slightly more than $1 million for independent committees working to re-elect her.
Sheldon said his campaign is only now really starting. He has recently staffed up with six fundraisers plus a campaign manager, Taylor Bennett, a lawyer and former Georgia Tech quarterback.
Sheldon said the candidate who can raise the most money will benefit in the primary race.
“You’re going to have to be competitive” financially, he said in an interview. “I think you’ll be able to determine in the next few months who’s best equipped.”
Thurston said his position as Democratic House minority leader provides him a ready-made team of 45 Democratic House members to help spread his message. “I don’t think this is going to be an election about money,” he said.
He also said the primary decision should be based on “who’s best for the party.” As one of the state’s most prominent black officeholders, he said, he could help pull black voters to the polls.
The two candidates take the same positions on many issues, including abortion rights, opposition to prison privatization and support for easier restoration of citizenship rights for former felons. They praised each other for their past work in politics — Sheldon complimenting Thurston’s opposition to budget cuts to the Florida Department of Children & Families, and Thurston complimenting Sheldon’s work as head of that department under former Gov. Charlie Crist.
The closest they came to disagreement was over the state’s “stand your ground” law.
Sheldon suggested he’s in favor of repealing it. “Legislators should rethink the ‘stand your ground’ legislation. I support the Second Amendment as much as anyone,” he said, but, “I don’t understand this growing gun mentality.”
Thurston said the law “needs to be reviewed … modified so law enforcement, judges have specific knowledge of what they can and cannot do.”
Thurston wasn’t in the Legislature when the law passed in 2005, but many Democratic legislators voted for it; several also voted against a repeal in a recent committee hearing.
Several Democrats at the meeting said, based on issue positions and resumes, they see little to make them prefer one candidate over the other and will decide based on which seems more able to challenge Bondi.