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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Scribbles after Rick Scott and Alex Sink debate

10

October

Scribbles in my notebook after watching the web-cast of the only debate between Florida’s top two candidates for governor before early voting starts Oct. 18.

1.) It’s clear that neither Republican Rick Scott nor Democrat Alex Sink are particularly talented at delivering sharp zingers that can shape the narrative of who “wins” or “loses” a debate.

Part of the reason might be that neither are long-time politicians. But don't be fooled: These are two political animals. Without a fine-tuned political instinct, can you even dream of becoming CEO of the nation’s biggest hospital chain or president of Florida’s largest bank or the gubernatorial nominee for either of the state’s two dominant parties?

2.) So there was no soundbite that defined the Univision debate on Friday, but there were plenty of jabs.

Sink threw the first, mocking the main policy issue of Scott’s campaign: His economic plan of seven steps to create (almost) 700,000 jobs in seven years. He’s dubbed it “7-7-7.”

Here is Sink’s take:

“Rick, I’ve been thinking a lot about your seven step plan: Live in Florida just barely seven years, just barely long enough to qualify for being governor; take the Fifth Amendment 75 times so that you won’t incriminate yourself; and thirdly, spend $70 million dollars of your own money so that you can catapult yourself right into the governor’s office....

“Your 7-7-7 plan is buying the office.”

3.) Sink's mathematical mind came up with that dig. But, like Scott's claim of 700,000 jobs (see above link), Sink's turn-of-phrase includes its own exaggeration: The Naples businessman so far has disclosed spending $55 million through his campaign account and his electioneering committee.

Sink has repeated the $70-million figure several times. After she used it with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board last week, a campaign spokeswoman said she misspoke. Now, the campaign is saying it’s the amount they expect Scott to spend by Nov. 2.

4.) Scott’s new line of attack was to accuse Sink, the state’s elected chief financial officer, of letting felons sell insurance. At the moment, there are more questions than answers about this issue.

Records show that Sink’s office has cleared the path for a number of ex-felons to sell insurance in Florida, but if their civil rights were restored it sounds like there isn’t much Sink’s department can do to stop it. Consider this a developing issue...

But it didn't help that Scott’s running mate, Jennifer Carroll, had a difficult time answering questions about the issue after she tried to use it against Sink in a post-debate press gaggle.

5.) Sink punted a question about why she waited to investigate the so-called Taj Mahal of Tallahassee until after the Times published stories about the opulent courthouse project.

She called the project an "outrage," saying her audit would be completed this week but never quite answering the question about timing.

Sink blamed Gov. Charlie Crist for not vetoing it and the legislature for putting it in the budget. But she missed the memo from her party's coordinated campaign and failed to mention that a Republican governor and Republican legislature have been in charge of these decisions for most of the past 12 years.

Sink mentioned the word Republican twice: Once to say that some Republicans have criticized Scott’s jobs plan and again to say she has the support of some Republican sheriffs.

In contrast, Scott seized every opportunity to remind voters that Sink is a member of President Obama’s party.

6.) As Sink distanced herself from the Taj Mahal, Scott pounced:

“OK, my opponent takes no responsibility for anything.

“Step one: She talks about fraud, [but] why is she allowing convicted felons to sell insurance to our citizens?

“Two, why has she not taken any responsibility for the public company that falsified its accounting when she was an audit committee member? Next, at NationsBank her employees were paid kick-backs. They were paid kick-backs for getting elderly consumers to move from safe deposits … to risky investments. Again her company was fined.

“She’s Florida’s chief financial officer, she calls herself the fiscal watchdog. Under her watch, after auditors told her many times they were in too risky investments, that [state] pension fund lost billions of dollars. It went from being over-funded to under-funded but again she won’t take responsibility for anything.”

7.) Sink may have answers for all those accusations. But as the jabs add up, it becomes tougher to withstand the knock-out punch. Here’s one of Scott's better roundhouses:

“My opponent’s a Tallahassee insider. She’s had her shot. She’s been there four years."

8.) Sink accused Scott of lying throughout the 60-minute debate. Not misrepresenting or distorting or stretching the truth; She used the word lie or lying nine different times. Here is Sink is at her most incredulous:

“I am just stunned here. You know, we can’t trust anything that Rick Scott says. He tells lies. And I think the people of Florida deserve a governor that will tell them the truth and who won’t tell lies about other people.

“This provides very serious issues and when we get to the vote I hope all of our listeners understand that we cannot have a governor like Rick Scott who will stand up here and misrepresent and tell lies about his opponent and have so little respect.”

9.) Scott might be one of the few Republicans in Florida who has a deeper relationship with George W. Bush than Jeb Bush. Scott and his business partner Richard Rainwater both owned part of the Texas Rangers at the same time as W.

That might help explain Scott’s stumble when he tried to drop Jeb’s name in response to an education question:

“Governor George, uh, Jeb Bush is here in the audience supporting me. He had a major impact on our schools.”

10.) Scott said early in the debate that he’s running for governor to make sure that “everybody in Florida” has the same opportunity he did to achieve the American Dream.

That dream, he said, includes raising a family. But Scott seemed to contradict himself on this point later when he said he supports the state ban on gay couples adopting children:

“Studies show that children raised in a traditional family, do better in school and in life.”

This has been Scott’s answer since July. And since July, we’ve been asking Scott to produce one of these studies.

So far, nothing.

11.) Some post-primary maneuvering from Scott: He's moving away from the tough immigration talk, and taking credit for a company he distanced himself from on the primary trail.

After running a TV ad in May saying illegal immigration “endangers our citizens,” Scott used the bio of his Trinidad-born running mate to run out the clock on a question about what specific steps he would take to pass an Arizona-style law in Florida.

Another issue during the primary was his investment in Que Pasa Corp. Scott's opponents used the company -- a Hispanic social networking site that selects a “Cyber Girl of the Month” and includes web pages that are, as a Bill McCollum mailer put it, “geared toward gay dating” -- to question Scott's conservative credentials.

Here is the Scott campaign’s response to those allegations in August: "It's a publicly traded company that he has invested in. It could be in anyone's 401k," Scott spokeswoman Jennifer Baker told The Palm Beach Post.

But now, the company is one of Scott’s talking points. On Friday, Scott volunteered Que Pasa as a way to highlight his ties to the Hispanic community:

“I’ve invested in another Hispanic company, again creates Hispanic jobs, jobs for Hispanics, called Que Pasa. I’ve been very fortunate in my relationships in the Miami market and meeting Hispanics and building businesses with them.”

12.) Scott was drubbed 61-33 percent in the GOP primary vote in Miami-Dade, so he’s got some work to do with Hispanic voters. Here’s another attempt to connect:

“I have many friends in Miami. It seems like many times that they’re all related. Because if I say I know someone, they say, 'Well, that’s my second or third or fourth cousin or whatever.’

“But they’re very, very, very committed to their families …. and that’s what my wife and I are trying to do with our daughters, is have the same sort of family.”

13.) Sink, a former Miami-Dade resident, went for the kill on the immigration issue. She implied Scott has his own racial bias in the workplace and pointed to a lawsuit against Solantic, Scott’s chain of Jacksonville-based health care clinics. The settled suit accused Scott of not hiring a Hispanic doctor because his accent was too thick.

“That sounds like racial profiling to me,” Sink said.

Scott called Sink's accusaion "absolutely untrue."

“This is what we’re going to see if Ms. Sink is governor. She’s going to attack legitimate businesses day in and day out, accuse them of things that are completely untrue [and] not worry about what the facts are. So, it’s absolutely untrue.”

14.) Sink laughs it off when Scott calls her a Tallahassee insider, but she has mastered the political art of evading pointed questions and taking both sides of an issue.

Take education. Sink says she, like Crist, would have vetoed Senate Bill 6, which would have ended teacher tenure. But Sink still wants merit pay for teachers.

So a debate moderator asked a direct question: How would you measure a teacher’s success?

Sink stalled for the next 60 seconds. The closest she got to answering the question was to promise “we will work together” on merit-pay issues.

(This is an easier answer for Scott, who would have signed SB 6, which would have used student achievement to determine pay raises for teachers.)

15.) I'm going to jump into the first person for just a second, because this is my first set of scribbles for The Buzz. I have to disclose that I initially lifted this concept from one of my heroes of journalism, Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer, Terry Pluto (who has since given me his blessing and told me who he took the idea from.). If you or someone one you know is a Cleveland sports fan (I feel your pain), go check out one of Pluto's books.

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 6:45am]

    

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