ST. PETERSBURG — State Sens. Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber are fighting each other for the Democratic nomination for Florida attorney general, but sounded Monday more like they were fighting against outgoing Attorney General Bill McCollum.
"The once great office has been diminished because in the past few years we've had people in the Attorney General's Office who cared more about protecting their political careers than protecting public safety," Aronberg told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon, referring to McCollum and former Attorney General Charlie Crist.
Gelber likewise scoffed at McCollum suing to overturn the health care overhaul.
"We have an attorney general who believes it's his job every single day (to be focused on) a frivolous lawsuit directing the attention of his office, like there's not enough pill mills or gangs in town that he can spend his time doing this," Gelber said. "It's clearly nothing other than a political attempt to advance his gubernatorial campaign."
McCollum's office said he filed suit because he is obligated "to uphold the Constitution and protect the people of Florida."
Aronberg, 38, of Greenacres and Gelber of Miami Beach are widely seen as among the brightest members in the Democratic bunch and both turned in polished performances that left several Democrats in the audience lamenting that they had to choose between them. The two did little to differentiate themselves, however, except for a few subtle jabs.
Aronberg noted, for instance, that Gelber initially had been running for the U.S. Senate.
"This is not a steppingstone for me, this is not a backup plan," he said, suggesting he's more electable because he represents a more conservative and diverse district than Gelber.
"I've won three times … in one of the most competitive districts in the state," said the Harvard-educated lawyer.
Gelber, 49, played the maturity card, noting that he didn't enter the Legislature until he was 40, after he'd already had an accomplished career as a federal prosecutor and a U.S. Senate terrorist investigator. The former Florida House Democratic leader has had a higher profile in Tallahassee, and he implied that he is more willing than Aronberg to buck powerful special interests.
"What I think distinguishes me from the entire field is that you look at my background as a prosecutor, as a terrorism investigator and in the Legislature — I am not afraid to take on any interests," Gelber said. "I'm not afraid to stand up to anybody, and I don't think any other candidate can say that."
The primary is Aug. 24, and the winner will likely take on one of three major GOP candidates running: former legislator and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Holly Benson of Pensacola; former Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi; and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.
Adam Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.