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Bondi and Sheldon set to debate in October, but is that it?

SheldonIt’s been three weeks since the Democratic nominee for Florida Attorney General, George Sheldon, proposed five debates with Republican incumbent Pam Bondi.

Since then, he told reporters on Tuesday, he hasn’t heard back.

“Time’s a wasting,” he said.

Actually, two hours before, Bondi’s campaign sent out an email announcing that she had accepted an invitation to debate Sheldon in October for a Bay News 9 broadcast, which can be aired in Tampa Bay and Orlando.

Sheldon said he’d accept.

“I’m pleased to do it in her backyard,” he said.

But Sheldon, 67, stands by his request for five debates. He said he’s already accepted offers with Bay News 9, Fox News and the First Amendment Foundation, and would welcome at least two more.

Details about the one agreed-upon debate still need to be worked out, such as the date, time, place and whether Libertarian candidate Bill Wohlsifer would join Bondi and Sheldon on stage.

Bondi’s email only invites Sheldon, who himself said he’d welcome Wohlsifer’s participation.

“He’s on the ballot,” Sheldon. “I think that’s appropriate.”

Still to be determine is if it will just be the one debate, which will air only in the Tampa Bay and Orlando markets -- a blow to Sheldon’s campaign that will raise a fraction of the $4 million Bondi’s campaign has already raised.

“My preference is to have multiple debates,” Sheldon said. “She probably wants to keep it to one, probably as close to the election as possible.”

It doesn't take a political scientist to figure out why.

Bondi's got the bucks to run a statewide campaign. Her first TV ad debuted this week. It's still unclear when Sheldon plans to unveil his. 

"We'll be doing it much closer to the election," Sheldon said, when asked when he expected to air his first ad. "I will have the resources to compete with her on the airwaves, particularly at the time critical for us."

Sheldon's campaign has raised more than $500,000 through August, but had spent all but $32,000  of it, meaning he's got to hustle to run that ad that could get his name and face out in front of voters.

Until then, he's relegated to holding Tallahassee news conferences, running videos online, and critiquing Bondi's TV ads. 

He raised some eyebrows Monday when he actually complimented Bondi's ad, which seemed inspired by 1980s noirish get-tough-on crime dramas like The Equalizer.

On Tuesday, Sheldon clarified his comments.

"It was a good ad, but she couldn't run an ad on her position on medical marijuana, trying to deceive the people of Florida on medical marijuana," Sheldon said. "She couldn't run an ad on trying to deny women the right to contraceptives. She couldn't run an ad on marriage equality, so pill mills was the logical thing to do. When she does something right, I'm going to point that out. When she doesn't, we have an opportunity in the campaign to educate the people of Florida."

Sheldon is portraying himself as a moderate who can appeal to those turned off by Bondi's stances on gay marriage, the environment, and contraception.

During a Tuesday news conference, Sheldon was joined by moderate Republicans Mary Jane Stiles, a Hillsborough County attorney, and Carlos de la Cruz, Jr., vice chair of the Everglades Foundation. They'll be serving on a political action committee that will raise money for Sheldon.

Sheldon, who worked as deputy attorney general for former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, has more experience, Stiles said, who has disagreed with Bondi on issues like gay marriage.

"I know she has to uphold the laws of the state, but the question is to what degree do you uphold them," Stiles said.

De la Cruz objected to Bondi's intervention in an environmental plan approved by the states adjacent to Chesapeake Bay.

"Getting involved in something thousands of miles away when we're having issues in Florida," de la Cruz said. "The Everglades restoration is the most expensive ecosystems restoration project in the world, and, frankly, to try to make it more expensive, is not a good deal for the citizens of Florida."

Sheldon, who will need to reach moderates if he hopes to beat Bondi in November, stressed her partisan stands on Hobby Lobby, gay marriage, medical marijuana and Cheseapeake Bay.

"To intervene on every effort on marriage equality in Florida when you now have virtually 30 federal and state courts, this is becoming settled law," Sheldon said.  "It's a series of things that concern me about these highly visible issues, whether it's Hobby Lobby, Chesapeake Bay, marriage equality or medical marijuana when the attorney general ought to be focused on consumer protection, ought to be focused on really trying to hold down our utility rates."

Not mentioned: Bondi's opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Appealing to moderates isn't a bad way to go, Sheldon said.

"You have to reach out to the base, like we're doing, but you have to reach beyond that," he said. "But that's not to win an election, that's to govern effectively."

Bondi's campaign didn't comment on Sheldon's news conference or his challenge for more debates, but did cheer his acceptance of the (1) debate.

“Attorney General Bondi is happy to hear that Mr. Sheldon has agreed to join her for the Bay News 9 debate," said campaign spokesman Trey Stapleton. "And looks forward to having an opportunity to discuss her record of protecting Florida’s consumers, eradicating pill mills, getting synthetic drugs off the shelves, and fighting human trafficking."

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