TAMPA — Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he’s willing to participate in three debates with his Democratic opponent, but his likely challenger — former Gov. Charlie Crist — said that’s not enough and accused Scott of limiting chances for voters to see them face off.
Scott announced Tuesday he’s willing to participate in debates to be staged by the Spanish language network Telemundo on Oct. 10, the Leadership Florida business group on Oct. 15, and CNN on Oct. 21.
Scott turned down four other debate proposals, including all three proposed by Florida news agencies.
One of the debates Scott agreed to, the Leadership Florida debate co-sponsored by the Florida Press Association, will have a panel of Florida journalists asking questions, its sponsors say.
Three debates between the general election candidates is roughly in line with recent elections.
Scott debated Democratic nominee Alex Sink three times in the 2010 campaign, and Crist, formerly a Republican, debated Democratic Jim Davis twice in 2006.
Crist said he would agree to the three debates Scott named plus four others, sponsored by the Spanish language Univision network; Florida NBC stations led by WESH in Orlando; The Tampa Tribune together with Florida’s Public Radio Network, PBS affiliate WEDU and Genesis Communications; and the Tampa Bay Times together with Florida CBS affiliates.
Crist accused Scott in a news conference Tuesday of trying to “limit and control” debate opportunities and linked the decision to Scott’s reluctance to answer questions directly.
He called the decision “not surprising considering (Scott’s) history of refusing to answer questions to avoid going to jail.”
Crist said he wanted a “town hall-style debate” in which Scott could be asked about education cuts during his administration and his former hospital chain’s record of paying a $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.
Scott said the three debates he accepted “will be aired statewide, giving Floridians ample opportunity to evaluate the candidates without the filter of the news media or campaign advertising,” and that debates “allow candidates to discuss their vision and their plans directly with the voters.”
The Leadership Florida debate will be broadcast from Broward College. Locations for the Telemundo and CNN debates haven’t been announced yet, though Telemundo — owned by NBC Universal — has its headquarters and its one company-owned Florida station in Hialeah.
Crist’s Democratic challenger, former state Sen. Nan Rich, “would gladly meet Rick Scott in three or more debates,” said Sterling Clifford, Rich spokesman, “and we continue to be disappointed that Charlie Crist refuses to give Democratic primary voters the debate they want,” meaning a Crist-Rich primary debate.
Despite his eagerness to debate Scott, however, Crist stuck by his refusal to debate Rich.
“I’m focused on Rick Scott,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve gotta keep my eye on that ball.”
Asked whether he was concerned about the message that sends Democrats, Crist said, “No – what I’m concerned about is Rick Scott. That’s why I’m running, to give Floridians a choice, so we have an opportunity to have a governor that’s got a heart again.”
Crist specifically said the two candidates should debate on Univision. But it’s to be expected that Scott would decline in favor of Telemundo, said Florida International University political scientist Dario Moreno.
“Univision is viewed as more friendly toward Democrats than Telemundo,” Moreno said. “It’s viewed by many Republicans as partisan.”
Asked the rationale for accepting the three debates, Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair responded with a statement that did not directly answer the question.
“Three statewide debates will give voters ample opportunity to hear from Gov. Scott and his challenger. He will be spending the rest of his time traveling the state and meeting with voters,” the Scott campaign said.
Susan Howarth, president and CEO of WEDU, said her group was “disappointed he didn’t choose our partnership – the only proposed debate that would reach a statewide audience over both TV and radio via free broadcast.”