Bondi, Putnam, Atwater all coast to wins

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi looks on during as Florida Gov. Rick Scott delivers a campaign speech Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, in Clearwater.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi looks on during as Florida Gov. Rick Scott delivers a campaign speech Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, in Clearwater. AP

— Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi won reelection Tuesday with a commanding lead over Democratic George Sheldon and Libertarian candidate Bill Wohlsifer.

Florida’s two other Republican cabinet members, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, also won their races by double digits.

All three cabinet members were first elected in 2010.

Although an attorney general hasn’t lost reelection in 50 years, Bondi was in the most competitive race, especially after enduring a spate of negative publicity about her office in the last week.

A former state prosecutor from Tampa, Bondi gained a devoted conservative following the past four years for bashing the Affordable Care Act and fighting to uphold the state’s ban on gay marriage, giving her a core base for higher office.

But Bondi, 48, made herself a target after postponing an execution last year to host a campaign fundraiser.

She later apologized, but the misstep helped draw out a formidable challenger in Sheldon, a former deputy attorney general and secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families. Immediately, he played up his experience while raising questions about Bondi’s ethical conduct.

But Sheldon, 67, couldn’t get much attention.

Bondi only debated him once. He was shunned by the Florida Democratic Party, which funneled its money exclusively into the governor’s race. Meanwhile, the GOP gave Bondi $2.2 million, including $750,000 from an out-of-state group called the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA. Overall, she raised a total of $5.8 million to Sheldon’s $900,000, allowing her to air at least two television ads to his none.

In the last week, Sheldon tried to capitalize on media reports about RAGA’s influence on Bondi and a Washington D.C. law firm that wined and dined her as her office dropped or ignored cases involving the firm’s clients.

Bondi denied any conflict, but Sheldon couldn’t close ground.

“I think most Floridians believe in what I believe in,” Sheldon said. “But you do buy a microphone. It’s a reality.”

Putnam, 40, won easy reelection as the head of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, a sprawling agency that helps farmers, manages state forests, protects consumers and processes concealed-weapon license applications.

A 10-year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives, Putnam raised $4.2 million in his personal campaign account to overwhelm the $44,000 his Democratic challenger, Thaddeus Hamilton, scraped together. Putnam is considered a sure bet to run for governor in 2018.

So is Atwater, 56, who cruised to another four years as CFO, overseeing the investment of state funds, insurance fraud investigations and the workers’ compensation system.

Atwater also is a political veteran with a decade in the Legislature, including serving as Senate president from 2008 to 2010. He raised $4.4 million to keep the CFO post while his Democratic opponent, William Rankin, mustered only $41,915.

The massive contributions raised by all three incumbents not only helped them keep their jobs, they also kept them in touch with a donor class they’ll need to win higher office.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (850) 224-7263. Follow @mikevansickler. Jodie Tillman can be reached at (813) 226-3374. Follow @jtillmantimes.