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George Sheldon, U.S. health honcho, might challenge Pam Bondi on Obamacare platform


George Sheldon, a longtime Florida political hand and a current U.S. Health & Human Services official, has been talking to political insiders and prospective donors about challenging Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2014.

A top issue for Sheldon: Obamacare, which the Republican Bondi fought in court and still bashes in public speeches.

"What concerns me is the continual flailing against the Affordable Care Act," said Sheldon, a Democrat. "You had it passed by Congress, signed by the president, an election held over it and a Supreme Court decision. At a certain point, we have to move on… but it’s still in her talking points."

Sheldon, HHS' Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, acknowledged that Obamacare isn't the most-popular item to campaign on, according to polls that show it's despised by the far right, disliked by many independents and doesn't go far enough to ensure universal government-run health care in the eyes of many liberals.

Still, Sheldon said, the law is the best the country has. And he said Florida officials should try to make it work in a state that has at least the third-highest rate of uninsured residents: about 25 percent.

Sheldon also faulted the Republican-led Florida Legislature for rejecting Republican Gov. Rick Scott's call this year to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

But Sheldon wasn't completely critical of the GOP or of Bondi. He credited the attorney general for fighting against human trafficking.

"She has been one of those attorney generals who has taken that issue to heart," Sheldon said. "And you have to give credit where credit is due."

Bondi would likely be a tough opponent. Republicans tend to outperform Democrats in non-presidential election years, the GOP has more money in the state and Bondi, a former prosecutor and sometime-legal analyst for FOX, hails from battleground Tampa Bay. Sheldon, though he works in D.C., still calls Tallahassee home.

Sheldon ran unsuccessfully twice before for statewide office, in 2002 for attorney general and in 2000 for education commissioner against Charlie Crist, who later appointed Sheldon to head the Florida Department of Children and Families. Before that, Sheldon served as an associate dean at St. Thomas Law School and prior to that he worked under Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, succeeded by Crist on his way to the governor's mansion.

Sheldon's start in politics began decades ago when he was an aide to then-state Sen. Reubin Askew, who went on to become Florida governor.

Sheldon said he has spoken to Butterworth about his interest in running, but hasn't mentioned it to Crist. He has also reached out to other Florida and national political insiders and financiers, but he won't name names and he isn't ready to say he's definitively running.

The biggest issue: Money.

"The thing that’s daunting, one of the difficulties is Florida is a big media state. You have to have the ability to raise significant resources. You have to analyze that," Sheldon said.

Sheldon said that Askew, in a recent chat, underscored how times have changed.

"What happened to me in 1970 couldn’t happen today," Askew told him, according to Sheldon.

"He got in the runoff for $180,000 and everntually became governor," Sheldon said. "That was when the average FL voter had one newspaper to read and maybe three TV stations. That was a point in time when editorial endorsements made a huge difference. It’s a different world now."