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Debate-cheating flap nags at Alex Sink as new video surfaces

TALLAHASSEE — A debate-cheating flap continued to nag at Democrat Alex Sink on Wednesday even as new video surfaced showing she might not have known a campaign staffer broke the rules until it was too late.

At issue: a note shown to Sink on a makeup artist's smart phone during a commercial break Monday. The CNN/St. Petersburg Times debate rules specified that the candidates would receive "no notes'' from staff.

The new video clip, posted Wednesday by CNN, indicated Sink was handed the phone before she realized the message was about her debate against Rick Scott, her Republican opponent for governor.

CNN didn't post all of the audio from the exchange, but CNN debate moderator John King accurately noted that the stylist twice discussed the contents of the message, in which a campaign adviser wanted Sink to "stand up'' more to Scott.

Sink, who wasn't clear about what she was being told, even asked the woman to repeat the message.

The makeup artist, whom the Sink campaign would not identify, didn't seem to know much, either, as she showed the phone to Sink.

"I don't know who that's from,'' she said, her voice growing quiet with a question: "If it's from Brian?"

The Brian in question is Brian May, an insurance lobbyist and campaign adviser who was promptly dismissed Monday night. May had insisted on the no-notes rule for the debate after the Sink campaign claimed Scott used notes in an earlier face-off, one that, according to Scott, allowed notes.

Sink's account of what happened differs from the video. She said she never heard the name "Brian,'' which the video shows is mentioned by the stylist.

"I didn't hear that. I'm sure the audio will bear that out. What I remember her saying is that I've got this text message but I can't tell who it's from," Sink said Wednesday while campaigning in Fort Pierce. "That's what I remember her saying."

Sink said she read the message because she thought it could involve her daughter, who is studying abroad in Europe.

The phone flap came to light when Scott spied Sink looking at the message. He complained to CNN political editor Mark Preston, who subsequently asked Sink about the message.

Sink responded: "Oh that's okay. It didn't have anything on it that was …" Sink never completed the sentence, which Republicans say is evidence of the fact that Sink knew she had broken the rules and had read the message — a charge Sink denies.

"I couldn't tell what it said. I didn't understand it," she said.

Scott said he isn't so sure. He said Sink didn't have to look at the phone, a Motorola Droid.

"It shows a lack of integrity. She knew the rules," Scott said. "She accepted the message. And then she said she didn't know who it came from."

Times/Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Michael C. Bender contributed to this report.

What they said

Here's a CNN transcript of the conversation Alex Sink had with the makeup artist.

Makeup: Do you want some food? … A grape? Anything?

Sink: No if I eat a grape, I won't have anything. I'm okay. Thanks though. …

Makeup: This is from … they said … (they both look down at device). I don't know who that's from, if it's from Brian or …

Sink: I don't know.

Makeup: They're saying you need to stand up.

Man walks over: Are you okay?

Sink: Yeah. You want to give me a little more water? (Man walks away.) They're saying what?

Makeup: Stand up to them more.

CNN political editor Mark Preston: I'm sorry, did you just show the BlackBerry? I'm sorry (bends over to pick it up).

Makeup: What's that?

Preston: (unintelligible)

Sink: Oh that's okay. It didn't have anything on it that was …

Watch the new video

See another view at links.tampabay.com.

Debate-cheating flap nags at Alex Sink as new video surfaces 10/27/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 12:19am]
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