The race for Florida attorney general officially began Tuesday, when Rep. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville) launched his campaign at the state Capitol.
- Fant currently sole competitor in race
- Fant a relative newcomer to state political scene
- Democrats have not held AG office in 16 years
"My zeal for protecting property and people has not abated, and today, because of this, I am announcing my candidacy for attorney general of the state of Florida," Fant told a gathering of supporters and journalists.
A little-known sophomore member of the Florida House, Fant is now the sole competitor in a wide-open field to succeed Attorney General Pam Bondi. While other Republicans have been mulling campaigns of their own, Fant has made a strategic decision to enter the race more than 15 months before the primary election.
The move could allow him to consolidate GOP support, fending off intraparty opposition.
Fant has already recruited Brett Doster, a veteran Florida Republican operative who helped run Bondi's campaigns, to play a key role on his campaign team. And his time in the legislature could prove fruitful in generating endorsements from fellow conservative-minded lawmakers.
"As your future attorney general, I will fight for the Constitution, especially the First and Second Amendments and all laws pertaining to the sanctity of life," Fant said. "I highlight the First and Second Amendments because those are the bellwether for our freedom."
But if Fant is salivating to become the state's top lawyer, so, too, are Democrats. The party hasn't held the office for nearly 16 years and, given the string of controversies that have clouded Bondi's tenure as attorney general, Democratic strategists believe the time is ripe for a comeback.
"Now that we've had a change election in 2016, what are we going to have in 2018?" asked Democratic consultant Franco Ripple, a friend and supporter of one of the party's top prospects, Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler. "Are people going to say, 'no, no, we need to go back to people who have some experience at running government', or are we going to continue the change momentum, and I would say we're probably going to want to go back and look at people who have had some experience."
Indeed, Fant's relatively recent arrival on Florida's political scene has precluded the sort of institutional knowledge that more seasoned candidates might bring to the table. During his announcement event, he struggled to answer a question about the legality of online fantasy sports games, and tiptoed around the latest imbroglio to dog Bondi, involving the now-defunct Trump University.
"I'm not privy to those discussions and I'll have to honor her decision on that," Fant said of Bondi's decision not to join a lawsuit against Trump University that has since been settled.
But if recent history is any guide, a political novice can also hit the ground running. Bondi herself was new to Tallahassee after her election in 2010, and she quickly emerged as a prominent voice among attorneys general, most notably leading a multi-state legal challenge of the Affordable Care Act.