TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — George Sheldon, a one-time top official in the Obama administration, easily defeated state Rep. Perry Thurston on Tuesday in the Democratic primary for attorney general.
Sheldon moves on to the November ballot, where he will challenge Republican incumbent Pam Bondi and Libertarian candidate Bill Wohlsifer. With 87 percent of precincts reporting, Sheldon led Thurston 61 percent to 39 percent.
During a victory speech to supporters, Sheldon vowed during the next two months to draw a contrast between himself and Bondi on issues such as medical marijuana and same sex marriage.
She tried to block the medical marijuana amendment from reaching the ballot. Bondi has also led the legal fight to retain the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.
"Help me give Pam Bondi the job she really wants as an anchor on Fox News," Sheldon said.
Bondi, who is well-known in conservative circles for her unsuccessful legal campaign against President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, said she plans to emphasize her record on fighting prescription drug abuse and human trafficking in her re-election bid.
In a statement, she immediately called on Sheldon to debate her.
"The voters will have a clear choice between candidates in this election, and they deserve to hear directly from us on the distinct difference in visions and leadership that each candidate will offer," Bondi said.
Sheldon won a low-key primary in which the two rivals largely refrained from criticizing each other directly and instead focused most of their energy on criticizing Bondi.
Sheldon, 67, has had several stints in state government, including spending time working under Bob Butterworth, who was the last Democrat to hold the position of attorney general. He was also secretary of the Department of Children and Families under former Gov. Charlie Crist. He served as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for two years.
But he could have an uphill battle against Bondi, whose campaign and political committee has already raised more than $3.5 million. Sheldon raised slightly less than $500,000 for his primary campaign but spent nearly all of it in his quest for the nomination.
Sheldon said he realizes it won't be easy to defeat the incumbent.
"I'm under no illusions," Sheldon said. "This will be a tough campaign. They will throw everything they have at me."
This is Sheldon's second run for statewide office. He lost to Crist in the 2000 election for education commissioner, which was an elected position at the time.