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    Sheldon pulls far ahead of opponent

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2000


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    Complete election coverage is one click away

    In the contest to become Florida's last elected education commissioner, former Tampa lawmaker George Sheldon appeared to have captured the Democratic nomination Tuesday as he led Rep. James Bush III of Miami by a roughly 3-1 ratio.

    "I feel good about it; I think it's a clear indication of where we're headed," Sheldon said.

    If his lead holds, Sheldon will face former state senator Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg in the November election. Crist was unopposed for the Republican nomination.

    Sheldon was a latecomer to the race. He announced his candidacy in July, a full six months after Crist started his campaign. He quickly gathered some high-profile Democratic support from around the state. Thus far, Sheldon has raised about $100,000 in contributions, much of it from lawyers and education groups around the state.

    The Sheldon campaign appeared to have little trouble with Bush, a school social worker who ran a quiet campaign and rarely granted interviews. Bush raised about $20,000, mostly in the Miami area. He was elected to the House in 1992 and had to give up that seat because of term limits. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

    Sheldon agreed he will need more firepower to compete with Crist, who already has raised more than $1-million dollars.

    "I think you're going to see an extremely competitive race," Sheldon said. "Education is going to dominate the November election, and that includes the presidential race."

    Sheldon grew up in Plant City and represented Tampa in the Florida House from 1974 to 1982. He left to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress. Since then, he has worked as a lobbyist and as a deputy attorney general, a post he quit to enter the education race.

    At stake in the November election is an abbreviated two-year term as Florida's education chief. The state's top education post will be appointive after 2002 because of a change to the state Constitution.

    Also on the ballot will be Vassilia Gazetas of Boynton Beach, who is running with no party affiliation.

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