Democratic candidates for AG differ in experience


In Democratic race for attorney general, candidates offer contrast in style, experience

By Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — At first glance, they seem alike: Both men are politically ambitious lawyers and state senators from South Florida.

But real differences separate Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber, who are fighting for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. The contest is one of three down-ballot statewide races likely to be decided by TV ads and obscured by high-profile free-for-alls for U.S. Senate and governor.

As Florida's chief legal officer, the attorney general oversees 475 lawyers and is expected to protect consumers from fraud and discrimination, represent the state in legal matters including death penalty appeals, and set policy as a Cabinet member on everything from open space to state investments.

For months, Aronberg and Gelber have criss-crossed the peninsula raising money, collecting endorsements and honing their messages in advance of their showdown, the Aug. 24 primary.

Gelber, 49, has a much more extensive legal background, as a federal prosecutor for nearly a decade and as counsel to a U.S. Senate committee. He was a forceful House Democratic leader who helped his party win back nine seats in 2006, while offering frequent policy alternatives to the Republican agenda. Gov. Charlie Crist credits Gelber with his decision to expand early voting in 2008, a decision seen as having favored Barack Obama's fortunes in Florida.

Gelber's prosecutorial style, with an emphasis on public corruption, was on display in a recent speech to Polk County Democrats. "You give me 400 lawyers and I will prosecute Ponzi schemes. I will prosecute public officials," Gelber told them. "I am not afraid to make enemies."

If elected, he promises to immediately sue the Legislature for failing to adequately pay for public education.

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