It’s easy to remember political debates in which a candidate performed so poorly, it helped ruin his or her career. It’s also not hard to think of some debate performances that were so impressive, they are remembered as an important part of a politician’s legacy.
But last night in South Florida was something altogether different: the most memorable moment in a televised gubernatorial debate occurred when one candidate hid backstage, briefly refusing to participate.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist stood alone on stage for a visibly awkward four long minutes as Republican Gov. Rick Scott refused to come out, claiming that the small fan below his opponent’s podium violated debate rules.CBS Miami moderators fumbled over their words, announcing initially that both candidates were “not stepping up on the stage” due to “an extremely peculiar situation.” They then quickly introduced Crist, who walked out and took his spot behind the podium.
noted that Scott supporters “privately” said that the moment the governor refused to go onstage “was the moment he lost the election.”The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo
For context, it’s worth noting that the high yesterday in South Florida was, quite literally, 90 degrees with high humidity. I don’t care what your politics are – if you’re wearing a suit on a hot day in the subtropics, getting ready to stand under stage lights for an hour, a small fan seems like a rather modest, sane idea.
But according to Scott and his team, fans were against the rules, prompting the governor to throw an odd tantrum.
The Democratic challenger seized the opportunity to stand alone on the stage. “Are we really going to debate about a fan? Or are we going to talk about education, and the environment and the future of our state?” Crist asked. “I mean, really.”
The former governor added Scott’s absence was “the ultimate pleading of the Fifth I ever heard” – a brutal reference to the Republican taking the Fifth 75 times during a deposition in which Scott didn’t want to talk about his company’s Medicare fraud.
The incumbent governor eventually realized his absence was hurting his cause, but after Scott emerged, his explanation for his behavior was just as strange as his conduct.
Asked specifically about his decision to hide backstage, the Republican argued, in reference to his challenger, “I waited to see, until we figured figure out whether he was going to show up” for the debate.
In the post-debate spin room, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a leading Scott surrogate, stuck to that line, saying “it wasn’t clear [Crist] was even going to show up.”
So, let me get this straight. The official Republican explanation is that Rick Scott wasn’t sure Charlie Crist would come onstage, even after Charlie Crist was already onstage. The GOP governor and his allies would have voters believe they couldn’t be sure the guy who’d already showed up would show up.
This, apparently, was the best argument they could come up with.
Adam Smith, the political editor for the Tampa Bay Times, referencing the bizarre developments, added simply, “That is one for history books.” That sounds about right – every Campaign Management 101 course forevermore will be able to point to this as what not to do.
Recent polling shows Scott and Crist nearly tied. Early voting in the Sunshine State begins next week.