Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bousquet column: Charlie Crist can cure his ills by debating Nan Rich

Charlie Crist needs a course correction. Quick.

After a wasted week over his canceled Cuba trip and his wife's tax returns, Crist needs to find a way to right his campaign ship. One way to do that is to change the subject. A candidate avoids the next bad headline by trumping it with a better story that the news media can't resist.

This one is obvious: Crist should immediately reverse himself and agree to debate his Democratic primary opponent, former state Sen. Nan Rich of Broward County. It's a low-risk, high-reward opportunity that will give Crist the exposure he craves and the chance to tell voters why he wants his old job back.

Here are five reasons why debating Rich makes sense:

Smart politics. By dissing Rich, Crist shows a lack of respect to Rich's supporters whose help he will need if, as expected, he wins the nomination. A lot of those supporters are in Rich's home base of Broward, a Democratic stronghold critical to Crist's hopes of victory in November. He can look statesmanlike and at the same time confront the fact that some view Rich as the only real Democrat running for governor. Then, under the lights, he can spend most of the time focusing on his true target, Gov. Rick Scott.

Good practice. Crist hasn't debated in four years and he's probably rusty. An hour spent sparring on stage with Rich, and the disciplined preparation that it requires, is good practice for the fall campaign against Scott. The rap on Crist remains that he's lacking in substance and ideas, and a debate gives him a chance to dispel that notion. Rich also can be expected to throw Crist's past record in his face on issues such as guns, gay adoptions and school vouchers, all issues sure to be in play in the general election.

Create a buzz. As the dog days of summer close in, there's always a palpable lethargy on the campaign trail in Florida. A Crist-Rich debate will awaken Democrats and force them to focus on what's at stake. Plus, it will generate a lot of media attention.

Find the middle. For Crist, the only risk in debating Rich is that she may box him into saying something outlandish to appease the far left that could come back to haunt him with independents and conservative Democrats in the fall. But Crist is probably experienced enough to avoid that trap.

Close the deal. A live televised face-off could dispel any notions that Rich may be the better candidate against Scott. On television, Crist looks like a governor because he was one, and that's a highly marketable asset that he should take advantage of at every opportunity. Trailing Scott in fundraising, Crist needs all the free publicity he can get.

Democratic voters in Florida deserve to see these two side by side and hear their visions of how they would lead this state.

Rich has much less experience in head-to-head debates, and she's the one playing catch-up in this primary. Eager to gain ground in a hurry, she may come off as combative or angry, creating a contrast to Crist's happy-warrior image.

Crist ignores Rich at his peril. He should agree to a debate, because poor excuses for ducking her don't cut it.

Contact Steve Bousquet at or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

Bousquet column: Charlie Crist can cure his ills by debating Nan Rich 06/30/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2014 6:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. JFK's last birthday: Gifts, champagne and wandering hands on the presidential yacht


    It has been 100 years since John F. Kennedy's birth on May 29, 1917, at his parents' home in Brookline, Mass., just outside Boston. Over the course of his life, Kennedy enjoyed lavish birthday celebrations, the most famous being a Democratic fundraising bash at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, when a sequined …

    President John F. Kennedy aboard the Sequoia in 1963 opening birthday presents. [Robert Knudsen | John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum]
  2. 1 in 4 Florida adults aren't registered to vote, according to non-partisan group


    TALLAHASSEE — Five million people in Florida who are eligible to vote aren't registered, according to a nationwide non-partisan group that helps improve the accuracy of state voter rolls.

    Voters line up in front of the Coliseum Ballroom in St. Petersburg on Nov. 8. A non-partisan group estimates that more than a quarter of Florida's adult-age population isn't registered to vote. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. Rays morning after: A lot that went into a marathon win


    Rays manager Kevin Cash had a simple strategy when Fox Sports Sun's Alex Corddry asked him how the team would move on from Sunday's marathon win and get ready to face the Rangers tonight in Texas:

    Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays celebrates as teammate Michael Martinez slides safely into home plate to score a run against the Minnesota Twins during the 14th inning.
  4. Navy parachutist dies during demonstration over Hudson River


    JERSEY CITY, N.J. — In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, a Navy Seal team member fell to his death Sunday after his parachute failed to open during a Fleet Week demonstration over the Hudson River.

    Officials surround a U.S. Navy Seal's parachute that landed in a parking lot after the parachutist fell into the Hudson River when his parachute failed to open during a Fleet Week demonstration over the river in Jersey City, N.J. The Navy said the parachutist was pronounced dead at Jersey City Medical Center. [Joe Shine | Jersey Journal via AP]
  5. As White House defends Jared Kushner, experts question his alleged back-channel move


    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration argued over the weekend that back-channel communications are acceptable in building dialogue with foreign governments, part of an effort to minimize fallout over White House adviser Jared Kushner's reported discussion about creating a secret conduit to the Kremlin at a Russian …

    President-elect Donald Trump embraces son in law Jared Kushner, as his daughter Ivanka Trump stands nearby, after his acceptance speech at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of Nov. 9. [Mark Wilson | Getty Images]