Second CNN/Times debate in Tampa features sharp questions, bare knuckle debate from Rick Scott and Alex Sink
UPDATE: As requested, here's CNN's clip of Alex Sink looking at a message from one of her advisors during the debate in violation of the set rules. Sink has since said she didn't mean to break the rules; GOP opponent Rick Scott has said the incident proves his opponent is the one who can't be trusted while harping on his past legal issues.
Here's the clip:
TAMPA -- The best mark of a good political debate on TV is a simple metric: sharp discussion, good questions lots of back and forth and a minimum of empty slogans.
By that measurement, tonight's gubernatorial debate in Tampa between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink scored fairly well, as a loose format and tough questions pushed both politicians past the stump speeches and into direct conflict.
Broadcast from the University of South Florida's Marshall Student Center as a special edition of CNN's John King USA, the debate was moderated by anchor John King and St. Petersburg Times political editor Adam Smith -- both whom seemed to enjoy taking time to throw a series of questions at each candidate, interrupting either one if their answers veered too sharply into stump speech territory.
As the second of two debates co-sponsored by CNN, the St. Petersburg Times and USF, this event fared a little better than Sunday's Senate debate, mostly because there were just two candidates to face off, allowing more questions, more substance and more fighting.
The sniping came early: "You have spent this campaign making up numbers, just like you made up medicare fraud in your company," Sink charged, in a reference to fraud charges made against Scott former company, Columbia/HCA. Scott countered by alleging Sink stood by as tellers director senior citizens to risky investments while working as an executive at Nations Bank. "You want to smile about it?" he said as Sink tried to laugh off the allegation. "You don't care about seniors, is that it?"
Sink resisted Scott's attempts to label her an "Obama Democrat," stressing that she disagreed with President Obama on the government's handling on the BP oil spill and extending Bush-era tax cuts to all Americans. Scott brushed aside questions about difficulties with Columbia/HCA and a deposition in another lawsuit involving a different company, insisting that Sink hadn't created any jobs herself and would be forced to raise taxes given her plans.
King asked Scott about his contention that he didn't read letter he signed as CEO at Columbia/HCA, wondering "is that how you would run the state?" ("What you do as CEO is you surround yourself with smart people -- like Ronald Reagan said, trust but verify," Scott said).
Later, the anchor referenced the Nations Bank controversy by asking Sink if she would simply pass along directives from superiors, even if she knew they were questionable ("I have been champion for senior protection," Sink countered, citing her efforts in establishing programs to hold down fraud as the state's CFO)
Most surprisingly, both candidates -- who each tout credentials as successful businesspeople -- missed a question about the current minimum wage in Florida. Scott said $7.55, which Sink agreed with, but the actual amount was $7.25.
In an adjacent building, USF professor Susan MacManus led a group of students and observers through short discussions during the debate's commercials breaks. The best observation here: That candidates spent very little time talking about education, during a debate held in the city's largest university.
What we did learn: That Scott won't deliver a moral opinion about homosexuality, that Sink is so proud of her newspaper endorsements she mentioned them several times, Scott views Sink as a failed fiscal watchdog while Sink views Scott as a failed businessman.
Outside the hall, protesters ranging from pro-medical marijuana advocates to more than 100 people bussed into town by the Florida Immigrant Coalition to protest any talk of draconian immigration laws.
In contrast to Sunday's debate, I appreciated that the moderators seemed to retain control, while giving the candidates plenty of time to engage each other. Unfortunately, a week before an election, that mostly means lots of aggressive attacks, leaving voters to sort through the allegations and sniping to choose