FL gov candidates trade barbs, share a gaffe

10/26/10 Kate Bradshaw
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If you like the attack ads Rick Scott and Alex Sink have been exchanging over the airwaves, you’d probably love the debate that took place between the two in Tampa last night. Neither candidate is veering off message as election season hits the home stretch, and each has a solid base to show for it.

In the hours leading up to the final gubernatorial debate before next week’s election, supporters pack the sidewalk in front of the Marshall Center at USF’s Tampa campus. Sink supporters Nicole Garcia says she likes the Democrat for a host of reasons.

"She stands up for women's rights, she is experienced in economics, being part of a bank. And she is just an all around Floridian and she's a Democrat and she's a liberal and she's amazing."

Sink is the currently the only Democrat to hold statewide elective office. Alex Carabello says he supports her because nearly across-the-board leadership in Tallahassee has done quite a number on the state.

"The Republicans have controlled the legislature and the governor's office for the last twelve years. So, I mean, how are they supposed to fix the problem when they've been part of the problem for the last twelve years?"

Sink supporters and those of her opponent, millionaire and former medical executive Rick Scott, seemed to blend as each camp rallied along the sidewalk. One key difference between the two crowds became glaringly apparent as the dual rallies wore on.

Two Scott supporters refuse to identify themselves or elaborate on their reluctance to comment on their support for Scott. Indeed, almost every Scott sign waver WMNF approached for an interview declines comment.

'We're all volunteers for..that's it. All right?' 'No can do, kimosabe' 'No, thanks, we're just volunteers, thank you.'

Why not?

'No reason. Just want to be out here in support, okay?'

Sink supporters in the crowd allege that many from the Republican camp are being paid to stand and wave signs for Scott. This could not be confirmed by air time, but one Scott supporter identifies himself as a campaign staffer. A few Scott supporters were willing to go on the record on why they support Scott. One of these is Matt McKithan.

"Anything that we read on his ads can be truth, especially when you hear it from his mother, who is a good woman."

Another is Jessica Molina, a college student and intern with the campaign.

"I believe in his views about the jobs that he's trying to create in Florida and, um, also about, um ('pro life', heard shouted from background) oh, oh yeah, pro-life. I also agree with him being pro-life and against abortion."

Sink supporter Nicole Garcia says she thinks many people support Scott because they’re ill-informed.

"I just think they run on hypocrisy, they..you know, a lot of them are racists, a lot of them just don't know what they're talking about and I don't agree with it at all. I think that they need to get a little more educated."

The sidewalk clears before the debate starts, and once it’s underway, it’s instantly clear that Sink and Scott don’t think much of one another. The first question co-moderator and CNN chief national correspondent asks refers to Scott’s ads linking Sink to President Obama.

"I have to say Rick, that every time you put that Obama liberal label on me, you just don't know what you're talking about."

They take up much of the debate attacking one another on their business ethics. Sink often laughs when Scott accuses her of defrauding seniors.

"You've never once responded to what you did at NationsBank. How you defrauded all those seniors with your tellers. Oh, laugh about it. Those seniors aren't laughing. All right, you've never responded to the fact that at Sykes, a public company, you're the auditor, you're on the audit committee of the board. Falsifying the accounting records."

Sink tells Scott, who's former company Columbia/HCA paid a record $1.7 billion in fraud related fines, not to lecture her on business ethics.

"He didn't build a company, he was a corporate raider, and he left as a disgraced chief executive officer because his company, the people that he says were smart and that he trusted...either he didn't know about it or he did know about it. And he did know, for four years his financial statements disclosed that they were engaged in activities that were possibly illegal and he didn't do anything."

A key difference between the two is environment. While both favor Everglades restoration, Sink opposes offshore drilling. Here’s what Scott has to say about the BP oil disaster.

"I dealt with this same sort of issue back in 1992 when hurricane Andrew hit. I had a lot of hospitals down in Miami and I was down there right after the hurricane hit. We had to completely evacuate one hospital which was basically demolished. And I showed up, we had over 500 employees without homes. We had 154 patients in the hospital. I got nurses from the West coast of Florida over there within 8 or 9 hours and I reopened two hospitals. And I stayed down there until it was solved."

The big gaffe of the evening comes when the two candidates are asked what the state minimum wage is.


Smith: 'Ms. Sink, is that right?'

Sink: 'yes'

Smith: '$7.25, oops.'

USF political Science professor Susan McManus says even being off by that thirty cents makes both candidates appear out of touch.

"It's very embarrassing. That's going to be headlines all over the state. It'll be all over talk radio, on television and every show tomorrow is going to cover that. (background: 'they're both millionaires') and it really does make people uneasy to think that corporate CEO's don't know the minimum wage in a state where the unemployment rate is fourth highest in the country."

But Democratic state senator Dave Aronberg says Sink and Scott probably weren’t the only two in the room who didn’t know the minimum wage.

"I'll bet you there's not a person in that room today who knew that it was $7.25 as opposed to $7.55. So, at least if you're going to make a mistake it's good that you're opponent makes the same mistake."

McManus says Sink is the clear winner in tonight’s debate, but, given the debate’s lack of substance, that’s not saying much.

"The frustration that I heard here in our audience was what viewers and listeners and newspaper readers across the state are saying is they don't hear enough about solutions that people have in mind. We know we have a crisis economy in this state. People would like to have more than a sound bite answer about what they're going to do about the problems."

The election is one week from today, and polls indicate that Scott and Sink are neck and neck.

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