TALLAHASSEE — For the second time in a week, Gov. Rick Scott has decided not to share a spotlight with his leading Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist.
Scott's campaign said he won't appear at a forum in Coral Gables at the convention of the Florida Press Association and Florida Society of News Editors.
The groups invited Scott and Crist to speak separately in back-to-back appearances at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables on July 10. A letter to Crist called it a "forum," and said "also invited for this session is Gov. Rick Scott."
Crist said yes. Scott said no.
"The governor will debate the Democratic nominee in the fall," said Scott's campaign manager, Melissa Sellers. "Charlie Crist should stop playing games and stop hiding from Nan Rich. What is he scared of?"
Crist has refused to debate Rich, a former state senator from Weston who's also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in the Aug. 26 primary. She has struggled to raise money and a statewide poll taken last month showed she would lose to Scott.
Florida Press Association CEO Dean Ridings said Rich has been invited to speak at the news executives' convention on July 11. But a statement on Rich's campaign website says she accepted an invitation to speak July 10.
Ridings declined to say whether Rich's appearance was moved to a different time to make room for a joint appearance by Scott and Crist.
"We continue to look at the schedule to make a program that makes the best sense for the attendees," Ridings said.
The brief statement by Sellers was the most definitive one so far that Scott will debate the Democratic nominee in the fall general election cycle.
Two live televised debates are scheduled: Oct. 7 at the University of South Florida in Tampa, sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times and WTSP-10 News, and Oct. 15 at Broward College in Davie, sponsored by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association.
Scott's campaign said he has not yet accepted an invitation to either debate.
A third debate will be hosted by the Tampa Tribune and public TV and radio stations, but a date has not been announced.
Last week, Scott's allies on the Florida Council of 100 refused to allow Crist to speak after Scott at the group's event. As a former governor, Crist is a lifetime council member, but Council of 100 chairman Steve Halverson said the group did not want its meeting "to evolve into a political event" and apologized for disinviting Crist, who blamed Scott for the snub.
The Florida Press Association and Florida Society of News Editors oppose Scott in a lawsuit before the Florida Supreme Court filed by a former top aide to the late Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew. The lawsuit challenges Scott's use of a law that allows elected officials to place assets in blind trusts as a violation of a constitutional requirement that officials must make a "full and public disclosure" of their assets.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday transferred the case to Circuit Court in Tallahassee.
Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.