State Politics

Ashley Moody is Florida’s next attorney general

Republican candidate for attorney general Ashley Moody speaks at a rally in Orlando, Sept. 6, 2018.
Republican candidate for attorney general Ashley Moody speaks at a rally in Orlando, Sept. 6, 2018. AP

Republican Ashley Moody easily defeated Democrat Sean Shaw to become Florida’s next attorney general on Tuesday, ensuring the office stays in Republican hands for another four years.

Moody never trailed in the race, easily defeating Shaw by more than 500,000 votes.

Her victory means that the office of Florida’s top prosecutor is likely to maintain the conservative policies of outgoing Attorney General Pam Bondi.

And it’s a sharp rebuke to Shaw, a first-term state House member who pledged to use the office to investigate Donald Trump’s tax returns and business dealings in Florida.

The two Tampa candidates had provided a sharp contrast in visions for the state’s top prosecutor, with Moody vowing to follow Bondi’s lead in the areas of healthcare, restrictions on abortion and gun rights.

She described herself during the campaign as “strongly pro-life,” and in favor of gun rights laws including the “stand your ground” self-defense doctrine, open carry of firearms and campus carry.

And, perhaps most notably, she pledged to keep Florida in a lawsuit filed by GOP-led states — and Bondi — that seeks to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional. Shaw said he would have removed Florida from the lawsuit.

“That lawsuit is about pushing back on Washington overreach,” Moody said during their only televised debate.

Moody, 43, a former lawyer, federal prosecutor and judge from a longtime Plant City family, was endorsed by Bondi in the Republican primary.

Shaw, 40, a consumer insurance lawyer and a former state insurance advocate, is also the son of the late Leander Shaw, the state’s first black Supreme Court chief justice.

He would have been the state’s first black attorney general and the first Democrat in the seat since Bob Butterworth left in 2002.

During the campaign, Shaw promised an activist attorney general’s office that would attack political and corporate corruption or malfeasance — including going after President Donald Trump, who was a frequent topic in the race.

Shaw called Trump unfit to be president, promising if elected to join a lawsuit by Democratic attorneys general in other states seeking to reveal Trump’s tax returns and uncover whether he has violated the constitutional ban on a president receiving foreign “emoluments,” or payments.

He also promised to investigate Trump’s businesses in Florida for possible Russian money laundering.

Moody proclaimed herself a Trump supporter, although her opponents in the Republican primary accused her of being a liberal. Moody was one of a group who sued Trump alleging fraud over condo purchase deposits they put down for the failed Trump Tower Tampa project, winning settlements in 2011.

During the campaign, Moody maintained that Shaw’s lack of criminal courtroom experience disqualified him.

She and her allies also criticized Shaw as soft on crime for backing an Orlando state attorney who declined to seek the death penalty in the murder of a police officer.

Shaw in turn criticized Moody for taking money from a for-profit prison company, and said Republican policies have made it easier in Florida for people with health problems to get assault rifles than health insurance.

Moody defeated state Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola, to win the nomination, after two other Republican state House members, Ross Spano of Dover and Jay Fant of Jacksonville, left the race. Spano entered the District 15 U.S. House race.

Shaw defeated Ryan Torrens of Tampa, a consumer foreclosure lawyer, in the Democratic primary.

Moody raised three times as much money as Shaw, but had to spend heavily on her primary battle.

She reported raising about $4.2 million, plus another $1 million in Republican Party assistance, for her campaign; and $5.1 million in her political committee, Friends of Ashley Moody.

Shaw raised $2.1 million in his campaign plus $602,122 in party aid; and $2.6 million in his committee, Sean Shaw for Florida.

Tampa Bay Times correspondent William March contributed to this story.