Republicans win three state Cabinet races

TALLAHASSEE — Republican candidates won all three state Cabinet posts Tuesday, continuing the party's dominance in statewide races over the past decade.

The sweep means former Hillsborough County prosecutor Pam Bondi will be Florida's next attorney general, Jeff Atwater will be the chief financial officer and Adam Putnam will be the next agriculture commissioner.

The victories ensure the Republicans will hold a voting majority on the Cabinet regardless of who wins the governor's race.

In the attorney general contest, Bondi had 55 percent of the vote over Democrat Dan Gelber's 41 percent.

In the chief financial officer's race, Atwater, the Republican Senate president, had 58 percent over Democrat Loranne Ausley's 38 percent.

Putnam, the Polk County citrus and cattle heir and a five-term Republican U.S. House member, has won the race for agriculture commissioner. He had 56 percent of the vote over Democratic rival Scott Maddox's 38 percent.

Bondi, 44, becomes the first female attorney general in Florida history, and her victory ensures Florida will remain as a plaintiff on the lawsuit against the new federal health care law. She got her biggest applause lines when discussing the health law during a speech before a couple of hundred supporters at the Pepin Hospitality Centre in Tampa.

She vowed to reduce regulation: "To everyone who owns a business or runs a business and wants to stay in business, know that government red tape took a really big hit tonight."

Rebuffing criticism that she was too closely aligned with big business, she thanked the Florida Chamber of Commerce for its support and said she was proud to be a candidate that businesses would support, citing the state's high unemployment and the need to recruit and retain industry to boost the economy.

"The next four years, I think we're going to have an incredible Cabinet. We are going to make a difference. I hate the word 'change.' We are going to make a difference in our state."

Bondi, who had never run for elective office before, was the only Republican without a fundraising edge. Both Atwater and Putnam had wide money leads and ran several more weeks of TV commercials.

The Florida Cabinet is made up of the governor, attorney general, CFO and agriculture commissioner. It sets statewide policy on a wide range of issues, from land conservation to oversight of the state's pension fund. Politically, the Cabinet has often been used as a launching pad for gubernatorial candidates.

With the spotlight focused on the races for governor and U.S. Senate, the down-ballot Cabinet races did not get much attention. Polls showed that many voters simply didn't know the candidates and made their choices largely on party labels.

Dywan Washington, a 21-year-old supporter, said Bondi is down to earth and friendly. And, he said, "she's not a career politician like Dan Gelber."

Gelber, a 49-year-old state senator and former federal prosecutor, spent much of Election Day campaigning in his back yard of South Florida, with stops in Little Havana before visiting coastal voting precincts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Gelber, who stood with his wife, Joan, and three children, told about 250 supporters at the Miami Beach Golf Club that he called Bondi at about 9:50 p.m. and wished her well.

"Politics is often about timing," he said. "The headwind we felt in this election was unrelenting. It was unforgiving."

Putnam, 36, released a statement saying he is "honored and humbled" by the win and that priorities will be creating new job opportunities, managing state resources and protecting Floridians against scams.

Maddox issued a statement calling on Putnam to continue his focus on consumer issues. He added, "Obviously we were facing a Republican tsunami due to national issues and voter discontent."

Atwater's win flips control of the CFO office from Democratic hands to Republican. Sink, the current chief financial officer, is running for governor. He released a statement commending Ausley on a "spirited campaign" and said she is "clearly someone who cares deeply for the future of Florida."

The CFO race saw the feistiest campaigning of the three Cabinet races and had the toughest TV ads. Atwater said he will "work every day to make Florida's government more transparent" and said he will work to create jobs and end fraud.

Ausley, in a statement, congratulated Atwater and said it's time to "put aside partisan battles and begin working together to move our state forward."

Information from Associated Press was included in this report. Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

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