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Romano: Debate isn't until next week, but it looks as if David Jolly already won

I may be wrong, but I think David Jolly won the debate.

Not the one they had a couple of weeks ago at St. Petersburg College, but the one still planned for next week in Clearwater.

That's the congressional District 13 debate NBC tried to grab for a nationally televised broadcast but instead got stiff-armed by Alex Sink's camp.

So it looks as if there will be no big-shot TV reporter flying in from Washington. There will be no bright lights and no buzz outside of the 400 or so folks in attendance.

And, in the end, there will be no way for Sink to spin this successfully.

I'm guessing that makes Jolly the probable winner, no matter what is said or not said during the more low-key, grass roots format that will go on as originally scripted.

Is that a big deal?

Maybe not.

Candidates are forever trying to call the shots on how debates are staged. And when it's in their best interests, they'll skip them altogether.

For instance, Nan Rich has been dogging Charlie Crist for months about debating before the Democratic primary in the gubernatorial race. But Crist has nothing to gain by giving a lesser-known opponent a platform, so he ignores her.

And that's fine … if you're certain you're going to win the election.

Skipping a debate — or, in this case, keeping it away from a wider television audience — is a little trickier when the results are up for grabs.

Sink knows this. She once tried to exploit it.

Less than four years ago, she was the one accusing a rival of trying to sneak into office. When Rick Scott defeated Bill McCollum in the Republican primary without agreeing to a single debate, Sink pounced on the issue.

Immediately after Scott's primary victory, Sink published a letter asking him to agree to a series of debates before the general election. When he didn't immediately agree to all of the debates, she attacked.

"I called for five statewide televised debates and urge Rick Scott to agree to that plan and stop hiding from the people of Florida," she declared in a statement.

Naturally, circumstances have changed and, accordingly, so have Sink's strategies. She has been less vocal about debates and obviously feels that is to her advantage.

The problem is that Jolly is extremely good at packaging his message. He has a set of conservative talking points that sound terrific but have very little basis in reality.

And that is why Sink should reconsider her debate stance.

She may be worried about Jolly's trying to paint her as an Obamacare-loving liberal, but that's a short-sighted view.

There are undoubtedly a lot of voters who agree with Jolly's position that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed, but there are also many who do not want to go back to the same haphazard emergency room treatment that cost far too many lives and far too much money.

And health care is not the only issue Jolly has been able to whittle down to a bumper sticker slogan. His views are far more extreme than hers, and that should make her a favorite in such a moderate district.

She may think she came out ahead by shutting down NBC's request, but in essence, she is allowing Jolly to control the public perception of this debate.

Romano: Debate isn't until next week, but it looks as if David Jolly already won 02/17/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 17, 2014 8:46pm]
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