TAMPA — It will be weeks or months before the candidates for governor of Florida face the prospect of appearing on a stage together for a debate, but they’re already posturing over whether to agree to do so.
A number of different organizations have proposed or planned debates, including a media coalition that includes The Tampa Tribune.
Most would occur after the Aug. 26 primary and would include only the general election candidates.
One, however, is being planned for July and probably would include all three of the best-known candidates: incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott, likely Democratic nominee and former Gov. Charlie Crist, and a Democratic challenger, former state Sen. Nan Rich.
That’s raising questions for Scott and Crist, who are seeking to make political points concerning debates.
Crist doesn’t want to debate Rich, saying he’s focused on the race between himself and Scott; while Scott has said he sees no reason to debate Crist unless and until Crist wins the Democratic primary.
Rich has already accepted the July invitation, saying, “Democratic voters are entitled to hear a vigorous exchange of ideas in the primary.”
Meanwhile, watching the plans closely is Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie, a Palm Harbor businessman who’s been polling in single digits in the race but says he has enough support to be included in a race that still has a significant number of undecided voters.
Wyllie said he’s already been invited for a post-primary debate planned by Leadership Florida and suggested he may take legal action if he’s not included in important debates.
In 2006, Reform Party candidate Max Linn successfully forced his way into a governor’s race debate with a lawsuit.
The July debate, or forum, is being planned by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, which historically includes a forum for candidates in a major Florida race in its annual convention in election years. Both Crist and Scott have participated in past FSNE forums.
Scott spokesman Greg Blair said the campaign has made no decision on whether to participate, but noted, “There’s a primary process that has to play out.” Scott recently said it was “laughable” to suggest he should debate Crist before the primary.
Crist spokesman Kevin Cate, meanwhile, said, “If Rick Scott wants to debate we’ll be happy to debate him,” but, “We won’t participate in a debate with Sen. Rich.”
The FSNE event is likely to be more of a forum than a formal debate, said Dean Ridings, head of the Florida Press Association, who’s involved in the planning.
Cate said whether Crist participates “depends on the format and the participants, and our own schedule.”