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Thurston and Sheldon play game of chicken in race to challenge Bondi

Although they announced they were running for the Democratic nod for Florida Attorney General in the same week, George Sheldon and Perry Thurston swear they won’t become bitter rivals.

“If we stay in the race, it will be positive,” said Sheldon, who until last week worked as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families.

“A primary isn’t the best thing for the party, and I’m a party guy,” said Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, who is the Democratic Leader in the Florida House. “I know the party will make the right decision.”

But the race to challenge incumbent Pam Bondi hasn’t begun yet and they are already disagreeing about what exactly the two talked about when they spoke by phone last week before Saturday’s Florida Democratic State Conference in Orlando.

Sheldon, who announced Oct. 21 that he was running for AG, said Thurston called him and the two spoke for about five to 10 minutes on Thursday. Subsequently, on Saturday, Thurston announced at the convention that he was running for AG.

“I would rather have known he was announcing to run when we talked,” said Sheldon, 66. “I had thought he had ruled it out. His announcement caught quite a few of us by surprise.”

Thurston, however, said he told Sheldon during the phone chat that he was running for AG.

“I’m pretty clear, I don’t stutter or mumble,” said Thurston, 52. “I told him I was running.”

Thurston said he’s been publicly mentioning running for governor since at least March, so no one should be surprised now that he is running. Actually, it was at least in December of last year. Meanwhile, he said he was surprised about Sheldon’s announcement to run, even though it was reported widely in August that the former DCF secretary was considering a run.

Now that both have said they will run, what now?

Thurston said he will officially file by the end of the week. Sheldon filed to run last week.

After that, it could all wrap up soon. Thurston said it’s not likely both will remain in the race through the primary. He said he expects Florida Democratic leaders, such as Chair Allison Tant, executive director Scott Arceneaux and political director Christian Ulvert to convince one of the two to drop out and save the party a primary fight.

"I'm sure we'll be having a discussion," Thurston said. 

Or it could drag on. Sheldon said he made a decision to leave a federal job (that paid him nearly $180,000) on the premise that he was running, so he said there’s no going back now.

But, like Thurston, he said it would be nice to avoid a primary.

“Two and a half months (after the primary) is an extremely short time to gear up for the general election,” Sheldon said. “It could be a severe handicap.”