Election years always have their fair share of weirdness, but Florida seems set to outdo any other state’s oddities. The debate between gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, a Democrat, and Republican governor Rick Scott was delayed by the presence of a fan on stage, and not a rambunctious audience member. The fan in question was a small, electric fan positioned under Crist’s podium in order to cool him during the debate. With the glare of the spotlights and the stress of a televised debate, such a measure may seem reasonable, but the Scott campaign did not see it that way. According to them, the fan violated a “no electronics” rule in the debate guidelines which s and was a good enough reason for the Republican to delay his arrival on stage by eight minutes. To observers in the crowd and in front of the screen, it looked like Rick Scott was having a fit over the fact that Charlie Crist got to have a fan.
Political campaigns can have all kinds of criticisms for their opponents, many of which may seem trivial, but they are usually not as bad as this. Usually those quibbles are not enough to hold up a nationally televised debate, though they may make an appearance as talking points. The overreaction that seems to have come from the Scott campaign and the governor himself is what is so strange about this whole incident. It is not like Crist’s fan was a new thing. His need for some cooling breezes is well documented and even parodied on Twitter by the account “Charlie Crist’s Fan.” Scott and his campaign would have been prepared ahead of time for this little idiosyncrasy.
That is part of what makes the incident look like an overreaction, but the other part is the breach of debate protocol on the part of Crist and his people. Scott’s campaign came out to say that the fan violated a debate rule. If that was the case, Crist looks a bit spoiled and uncooperative, which would help the Republican campaign. But in the age of Twitter and camera phones, evidence is easy to produce. The Crist campaign tweeted a picture of the rules both men signed which acknowledged that they both knew a fan would be present. Whether someone believes either man’s clarification depends on which side of the political spectrum they fall into, but neither side looks particularly good at this moment.
The image of Charlie Crist standing alone on the podium with his fan somewhere nearby makes Rick Scott’s hissy fit look pretty bad and that is what is most important in this whole affair. Politics is a rough game in which personal attacks and muckraking are common. It is in a candidates best interest to develop a thick skin against any of the possible barbs and arrows that might be thrown at them. In that context, a fan at a debate (allowed or not) is no big deal. Rick Scott looks petulant, puerile and nit-picky. Crist may choose to capitalize on this by asking the simple question, “Is that the kind of man people want running their state?” The Republican should prepare for that kind of attack now that he has opened himself up to it.
At some point, Scott must have realized that stalling before the debate was not winning him any points. The debate had proceeded without him, so instead of giving his opponent a free platform, he went out to be the opposition a debate requires. At this point, his eight minute tantrum was already guaranteed to make headlines, but for voters the issues both men talked about were more important. Both men have records as governor of Florida and that was what was really at stake. Both had to argue that they were the better governor, giving constituents a reason to prefer them over the other guy. As debates go, this was no exciting contest.
But impressions matter and Scott had already tarnished his by being late. Despite that, he managed to further lower people’s opinion of him by continuing in a peevish vein. Towards the end of the debate, both men were asked to say something nice about the other, an opportunity to show that they could at least work with each other on something. Complimenting an opponent is a good way of showing off one’s good side and Crist was obliging. “I want to commend him on how he’s handled the Ebola situation,” he said. On such an important issue, finding a little bipartisanship is a good move. Scott, however, was not so complimentary. “That was pretty nice of him,” he said, refusing to say anything else good about him. In essence, the only thing good about Charlie Crist is that he says nice things about Rick Scott.
In a political arena where personality is just as important if not more important than a candidate’s position on the issues, this incident in Florida is pretty bad. No one looks very good, but it is possible for the two opponents to outdo each other for the position of “least good.” At this point, Scott’s campaign was fishing for a way to save face and maybe earn the title of “not as bad as the other guy,” so they came out with a small statement. “Charlie Crist can bring his fan, microwave and toaster to debates – none of that will cover up how sad his record as governor was compared to the success of Rick Scott.” Scott’s campaign seems to be trying to go back to the pertinent issues and appeal to his record as governor, but since he was the one to make this a problem in the first place, this hardly seems legitimate. Yet again, Scott is scoring no points over “fangate.”
So Charlie Crist gets to have his fan at the debate and Rick Scott has a fit that may be more damaging than anything else coming out of last night’s debacle. In the end, it changes nothing. The real issues of the campaign like the economy, healthcare, and education are lost in the mire of a political soap opera episode. This is why people bring out the popcorn for debates, not the candidates reiteration of their already well-known policies. Rick Scott can be thanked for at least providing some entertainment in what would otherwise have been a boring verbal sparring match.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury