Pubdate: Fri, 10 Oct 2014
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Author: Lloyd Dundenberger


Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist leveled a host of negative charges 
against each other on Friday.

But for the first time in the campaign, Crist and Scott traded their 
blows face-to-face, in the first of three debates in the final weeks 
of their high-stakes, big money contest. Before the debate, which was 
hosted by the Spanish-language Telemundo network and broadcast Friday 
evening, the candidates had spent some $55 million on more than 
100,000 television spots savaging one another, with three out of four 
ads containing a negative message.

It is the most expensive TV advertising war in the country, according 
to the Center for Public Integrity, which is tracking the spending.

Although both candidates delivered polite and polished performances 
in their hourlong confrontation, Scott and Crist launched a series of 
tough verbal jabs. Nobody made a mistake, but nobody altered the 
negative tenor of the contest either.

"I've never pled the Fifth in my life," Crist said, referring to 
Scott's use of the legal defense when he was the head of a health 
care company being investigated for Medicare fraud. The investigation 
resulted in a $1.7 billion fine.

"Can you believe him? Can you trust him? Who knows?"

Scott said he "took responsibility" for the things that happened at 
Columbia/HCA when he ran the company.

"In contrast, Charlie's never taken responsibility for anything," 
Scott said. "Let's think about it. His friends, Scott Rothstein and 
Jimmy Grier, went to prison for fraud. They raised a lot of money for 
Charlie Crist. Did he ever take responsibility for their actions?"

The Medicare fraud and Crist's association with individuals convicted 
of financial fraud are at the center of some of the most negative ads 
in the campaign.

But asked about the tone of the campaign, each candidate pointed a finger.

"My opponent is a mudslinger. . . . That's what he does," Scott said.

"This campaign has been very negative and it began with my opponent," 
Crist replied.

Position. Distinction.

Negative charges included, neither candidate broke new rhetorical 
ground. But the debate did serve as a forum to highlight clear 
differences between the men on key issues, such as the minimum wage 
and medical marijuana.

Scott opposes raising the minimum wage. He said it could result in 
the loss of some 500,000 jobs, citing a federal study.

"I don't want to lose those jobs," Scott said. "I want people to have 
the same shot I had, have the opportunity to live their dream."

Scott hit Crist for opposing a higher minimum wage when he was a 
Republican governor. "He's a lot of talk, but when he had this job he 
didn't take the action," Scott said.

Crist, who supports a $10.10-per-hour wage, accused Scott of being 
"out of touch" with ordinary Floridians.

"And that's unfortunate because people are suffering and they're 
struggling," Crist said. "For people who maybe have a private jet 
like the governor has or has a mansion on the waterfront, things seem 
OK. . . . That's great. But it's not great for everybody in Florida."

Crist said he supported the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 
ballot that would allow the use of medical marijuana. He said he 
opposed the use of "recreational" pot, but supported the use of the 
drug "for medical purposes."

Scott noted he supported a new law that allows the use of a limited 
version of medical marijuana in Florida.

But he said he opposed the ballot initiative, citing opponents, like 
the Florida sheriffs, who argue that the measure could lead to 
widespread drug use in the state. "It scares the living daylights out 
of me," Scott said.

In front of a Hispanic audience, which now represents nearly 15 
percent of the Florida electorate, Scott said he opposes lifting the 
decades-old trade embargo on Cuba, calling the Castro brothers "terrorists."

"We need to keep the embargo to make sure everybody knows that Cuba 
is not a democracy," Scott said. "Cuba is a terrorist state."

Crist said the embargo should be lifted, however.

"Sadly, the embargo has not worked," Crist said, saying he would 
support a new policy aimed at relieving "the suffering" of the Cuban people.

Crist said he supported issuing driver's licenses to undocumented 
immigrants in Florida. Scott vetoed a bill allowing driver's licenses 
to children of undocumented immigrants last year. He cited his 
support for a new law this year that allows undocumented students to 
pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities.

Tuition. Insinuation.

Both candidates hit each other over tuition rates. Crist accused 
Scott of being responsible for a drop in 50,000 students who will no 
longer receive the Bright Futures college scholarships because of 
higher standards.

Scott slammed Crist over supporting an annual 15 percent 
"differential" tuition rate when he was governor. The differential 
tuition was largely repealed this year.

In closing statements, each candidate called himself "an optimist."

Crist promised to restore public education cuts and emphasized that 
he is a product of the public school system. He also vowed to lower 
property insurance rates and "fight for ways" to raise the minimum wage.

"I look forward to being governor again, to fight for the middle 
class, to give them a fair shot, and make sure that they have a 
governor again who has their back," Crist said.

Scott emphasized the state's economic turnaround, including the 
creation of more than 600,000 private sector jobs, lower tuition 
rates and education funding that has restored many of the cuts made 
during the Great Recession.

"We are now heading in the right direction," Scott said. "I'll work 
just as hard as I've worked the last four years. I'm going to 
continue making Florida the best. . . . Let's work together."

Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie, who staged a protest outside the 
Telemundo studio, was not invited to the debate.

He is suing to be allowed to participate in the next two debates.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom