As McCollum Looks at Governor's Seat, Next Florida Attorney General Has a Lot on Plate

MIAMI -- Florida's next attorney general will take the lead on Gulf oil damage claims and a pending lawsuit over the federal health care program, but many voters were still undecided between three Republican and two Democratic candidates as Tuesday's primary election approached.

The Republicans -- Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, former Charlie Crist aide Holly Benson and former prosecutor Pam Bondi -- have all promised to support Florida's legal effort to block the federal health care program and support Arizona's immigration law. The two Democrats, state senators Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber, are focused on rooting out public corruption and Medicare fraud.

A few high-profile endorsements for the Republican nominees have invigorated the bland race which has been overshadowed by mudslinging in the U.S. Senate and governor's race.

Bondi, a 44-year-old former Tampa prosecutor and frequent commentator on Fox News, got a boost last week with an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The former vice presidential candidate called Bondi a bold leader able to "push back against any overreach of the federal government."

Bondi, who was registered as a Democrat for decades before switching parties, finished the campaign with a four-day bus tour.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced his support for Benson last week. Benson, a former state House member and municipal bond lawyer, has never prosecuted a case, but she ran two state agencies under Crist. She oversaw more than 1,600 employees for the Agency for Health Care Administration and ran the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The 39-year-old says small business is stifled by excessive regulation.

Kottkamp, 49, has the most name recognition statewide, but his relationship with Crist may sour Republicans who see the newly independent governor as a party deserter. Kottkamp has downplayed the link, saying the two haven't spoken in months, and he has endorsed conservative Republican Marco Rubio, the former state House speaker who is challenging Crist for Florida's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Kottkamp's image also took a hit last year over his repeated use of a state plane for travel for his family. He had to reimburse the state nearly $13,000 after news reports revealed his wife and son had made more than two dozen flights.

For the Democrats, the attorney general's vacancy may be the best chance for them to penetrate the Florida cabinet this election. Democrat Alex Sink is leaving her position as chief financial officer to run for governor.

Aronberg, a former assistant attorney general under Bob Butterworth, has criticized his opponent, Gelber, over his ties to Akerman Senterfitt, the law firm representing oil giant BP PLC. Gelber resigned from the firm in June, but Aronberg said the relationship could still hurt Gelber's ability to seek claims against BP if he were elected.

Gelber's campaign has said there's no conflict.

Gelber, who was elected to the state Senate in 2008 after eight years in the House, says he'd establish a public corruption task force and has personal experience from prosecuting corrupt public officials.