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Florida Gubernatorial Candidates Debate About Debates

May 21, 2014 - 6:00pm

As Floridians turn their attention to the Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer, the gubernatorial candidates spent this week debating over debates.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott, accepted an invitation from the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of News Editors to appear at a gubernatorial forum in July, according to an email from the Crist campaign sent out on Wednesday. The forum will be held July 10 at the Biltmore in Coral Gables. According to the email from the Crist campaign, the camp has been informed by organizers that this is the time and date for both Crist and Scott only.

But Scott said on Wednesday he won't be attending the forum with his team, insisting they have no interest in a debate with Crist since he hasn't won the Democratic primary yet. Crist has said repeatedly that he will not debate primary rival former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich and will instead focus on Scott, much to the criticism of Republicans across the state. Crist is new to the Democratic ranks, having joined at the end of 2012 after leaving the GOP to unsucessfully run for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation.

Despite being in his party for a year and a half, refusing to debate Rich and not facing the primary until August, Crist continued to expect Scott to treat him like the actual Democratic nominee with a debate in July.

"For those keeping score, Rick Scott is willing to spend $11+ mil on TV smearing @CharlieCrist, but not willing to attend a moderated forum," tweeted Crist spokesman Kevin Cate.

But Scotts team struck back on Thursday with a new website, counting the days since Crist refused to debate Rich. They called for Crist to debate Rich, adding the governor will debate whoever wins the Democratic primary in the fall.

"The governor will debate the Democratic nominee in the fall, said Melissa Sellers, Scotts campaign manager. Charlie Crist should stop playing games and stop hiding from Nan Rich. What is he scared of?"

For her part, Rich, who accepted an invitation back in April to attend the forum, continued to press Crist for a debate.

Last week, Charlie Crist again refused a primary debate, but his explanation isn't cutting it, Rich insisted on Wednesday. He doesn't want to be accountable for his conservative record. But he should be accountable.

Crist keeps touting his conservative accomplishments, Rich continued. Hes proud of cutting taxes for businesses even though it meant devastating cuts to important programs. Hes proud that he expanded Floridas private school-voucher program which takes millions out of public schools. And hes still proud of how he earned the nickname Chain-gang Charlie. But if we want your votes, we owe you a debate.

As the other gubernatorial candidates accept and decline attending, the Libertarian nominee Adrian Wyllie said on Wednesday he would attend it if hes invited.

As the Libertarian candidate for governor, I am willing to debate Rick Scott, Charlie Crist, and Nan Rich at any time, with no preconditions, Wyllie insisted. I would be happy to participate in the July 10th event in Coral Gables; however, I have not yet received an invitation from either the FPA or FSNE.

I find it amusing -- and somewhat pathetic -- that Gov. Scott and former Gov. Crist seem terrified to even appear in the same room with their opponents, Wyllie added. What does this say about their policies and records, when they lack the fortitude to stand up and publicly defend them?

Reach Kevin Derby at Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

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