Florida Gov. Rick Scott blames Crist for bizarre start to debate
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Charlie Crist’s fan isn’t allowed on stage under the rules of an October 21 Florida governor’s race debate that CNN is hosting in conjunction with Jacksonville affiliate WJXT.
The candidates were sent a memo on October 8 outlining the format, rules and logistical information for the debate. Among those rules: No electronic devices.
The memo stated: “There will be no opening and closing statements, no notes, no props and no electronic devices will be allowed on stage. Candidates will be provided water, notepad and pen,” a CNN spokesperson said Thursday.
The CNN spokesperson said electronic devices range from a cell phone to a fan.
Crist’s decision to place a fan on stage during a separate debate Wednesday night triggered what the moderator described as “the most unique beginning to any debate not only in Florida, but anywhere in the country.”
Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, was seven minutes late walking onto the stage — while moderators tried to explain during the live broadcast that he had decided not to participate because Crist had placed a small electronic fan under his own podium to keep cool.
Almost immediately, “#fangate” was trending on Twitter. Crist, standing alone on stage, asked if the candidates were “really going to debate about a fan.”
Eventually, Scott walked onto the stage. His campaign said later that it was actually Crist who was in the midst of intense behind-the-scenes conversations with debate organizers over whether his fan would be allowed — and that Scott was just waiting to see what happened. He hadn’t realized that Crist had gone on stage.
Scott said on CNN’s “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer on Thursday that he had been waiting in a trailer for debate officials to tell him to head to the stage. “They said he wasn’t going to show up, that he was balking about his fan,” Scott said, adding that he didn’t care if Crist had a fan, a microwave or a humidifier.
The organizers of the October 15 debate backed up Scott’s version of events Thursday, saying Crist clearly broke the rules — and ignored instructions given an hour before start time — by having an aide place the fan on stage.
Each campaign was sent a letter ahead of time explaining that “candidates may not bring electronic devices (including fans), visual aids or notes to the debate,” the two groups that hosted the debate Wednesday, Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association, said Thursday.
Crist’s campaign signed and returned that letter two days before the debate with a handwritten note appended saying the Democrat agreed to those rules, “with understanding that the debate hosts will address any temperature issues with a fan if necessary.”
Dean Ridings, the president of the Florida Press Association, got the note and told Crist’s campaign that while organizers wanted all candidates to be comfortable, the auditorium at Broward College, where the debate was to be held, “would be maintained at a comfortable temperature, and if there was a temperature problem, the partners would deal with it appropriately.”
The stage was at 67 degrees at 6 p.m. Thursday, an hour before the debate. At 6:20 p.m., it was 66 degrees. But at some point in that 20-minute span, a Crist campaign aide placed the fan on stage — “and they were again told that no fans would be permitted,” organizers said.
“In the minutes before airtime, the communication among the campaigns, the producing television station and the debate partners was chaotic and there undoubtedly was some confusion, but Gov. Scott never told Ridings or Wendy Walker, president, Leadership Florida, that he would not join the debate,” the organizers said.
“Rather, the Scott campaign was waiting on resolution of the rules issue before Scott took the stage. The debate partners appreciate Gov. Scott’s willingness to participate in the debate.”
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