TAMPA — Shaking up an already unpredictable statewide campaign for Florida attorney general, Hillsborough prosecutor Pam Bondi jumped in the race Tuesday, touting her legal experience and status as a Tallahassee outsider.
"I've spent my entire career prosecuting — not out politicking," said Bondi, 44, who is challenging Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and former Florida health care secretary Holly Benson for the Republican nomination. "I love my state. I'm a fourth-generation Floridian and … with all that's going wrong in our great state I realized someone must come forward who's not a politician to take a stand — someone with real-life experience. I believe the attorney general should be a real practicing lawyer who can hit the ground running."
Kottkamp, though, said he's the candidate with the broadest legal experience — everything from appeals to trial work to clerking for federal judges.
"I'm not running for state attorney. I'm running for attorney general, and it's an entirely different skill set," Kottkamp, 48, said of Bondi's touting of her 18 years as a prosecutor.
Kottkamp is a staunch social conservative, which can help in a Republican primary. But he also was a personal injury lawyer and that makes him suspect to some in the business community. Both Benson and Bondi are touting their conservative, pro-business credentials.
"Today our nation and our state stand at a critical crossroads. Will we take the path of bigger, more intrusive government? Will we continue to allow frivolous lawsuits to clog our courts and impose a hidden tax on every business, service, and product," said a recent fundraising letter from Benson, who on Tuesday met with members of the Tampa Bay Partnership economic development group.
As Gov. Charlie Crist's former secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration and former Department of Business and Professional Regulation secretary, Benson, 38, also stresses her administrative experience. Like Kottkamp, she also served in the Legislature.
"Pam Bondi is principled and unwavering, and her commonsense but conservative perspective will be refreshing during this election cycle," said Tampa executive Kathleen Shanahan, Gov. Jeb Bush's former chief of staff.
A longtime high profile Hillsborough prosecutor, Bondi is little-known outside Tampa Bay and is untested as a candidate or a money raiser.
But she could be a formidable candidate, particularly in an election cycle when polls show voter disenchanted with incumbent politicians. It helps considerably that she comes from Tampa Bay, home to about one in four GOP primary voters.
Bondi is a frequent guest on national cable TV programs and her high profile murder cases included putting Adam Davis on trial for the 1998 slaying of Vicki Robinson in Tampa.
Bondi said that as attorney general, her top priority would be public safety — including fighting for adequate funding for law enforcement — but that the economy would be a prime focus too were she serving on the Florida Cabinet.
The attorney general's office is open because Bill McCollum is running for governor. Democrats running to succeed McCollum include state Sens. Dave Aronberg of Palm Beach County and Dan Gelber of Miami Beach.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]