Gov. Rick Scott's campaign announced today that he has agreed to appear in three debates against the Democratic nominee, either former Gov. Charlie Crist or Nan Rich. The debates are all within four weeks of the Nov. 4 general election:
• Oct. 10, sponsored by Telemundo
• Oct. 15 at Broward College, sponsored by Leadership Florida, WPBF-TV and the Florida Press Association
• Oct. 21, sponsored by CNN
The governor declined to participate in a planned Oct. 7 debate sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, WTSP-Ch. 10 and the University of South Florida, which would have been the first of the season. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said three debates is enough.
"Three statewide debates will give voters ample opportunity to hear from Gov. Scott and his challenger," she wrote in an email. "He will be spending the rest of his time traveling the state and meeting with voters."
Editor Neil Brown said the Times is "glad the candidates have agreed to debate the issues, and welcomes continued discussions about a Times-sponsored debate in early October."
The debates may come after some voters have made up their minds. Absentee ballots will be mailed Sept. 30 through Oct. 7. The early voting window is Oct. 25 through Nov. 1.
Meanwhile, Crist continues to take heat for refusing to debate Rich before the Aug. 26 primary. He leads her in polls and says his focus is on beating Scott in November.
Crist says he agreed to all three debates Scott has signed on for, as well as five more. In addition to the Times/WTSP/USF debate, Crist would also appear at events sponsored by Univision, WESH-TV and NBC affiliates, Florida Blue Key and FOX affiliates, and Florida Public Radio in conjunction with the Tampa Tribune.
"We can't debate enough because there's a lot to debate; it's about the future of Florida," Crist said Tuesday. "The fact that Gov. Scott tries to limit this and control this is not surprising to me because he tries to control everything. I wish he would debate more; I doubt that he will."
Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie is also trying to make sure he won't be left out of the fall debates. His campaign says he accepted invitations to two: the one sponsored by Leadership Florida that both Scott and Crist agreed to and the one in Gainesville that only Crist accepted.
Wyllie is also in talks to participate in additional debates, but sponsors have not determined if he meets the criteria. Recent polls show he has little chance of winning the election but could serve as a spoiler by siphoning independent votes.
Staff writer Adam Smith contributed to this report. Contact Tia Mitchell at (850) 224-7263 or [email protected] Follow @tbtia.