TALLAHASSEE — For as long as Charlie Crist has been in the spotlight, he has used a fan to keep cool, and on more than one occasion, to put the heat on his rivals.
It's Crist's security blanket.
The man with the tan doesn't want people to see him sweating under the glare of hot TV lights, so he keeps a portable fan handy whenever he knows he's going to be on camera.
He brought one to his first debate in the 2006 election for governor with Republican rival Tom Gallagher at a steamy hall in Polk County. When Gallagher threatened to walk out, organizers gave him a fan, too.
As governor, he had a room full of fans — one at each of his three satellite offices in Miami, Orlando and Tampa, and one that traveled with him by plane. He spent $320 for fans that he brought on a 2007 trade mission to Israel.
At the Capitol, he always kept one under the podium, just out of camera range.
At his 2007 conference on global warming in Miami, the heat of lights from the 200 media outlets present was so intense that Crist had his team buy two very large fans, just for the occasion.
He even has a preferred brand, the Vornado. It "actually bends and twists air to produce true whole-room air circulation using Vortex Action,'' according to the product's website.
Crist's fan fancy is something his rivals know well. In a 2010 U.S. Senate debate, the audience could see and hear the whir of the portable fan. Marco Rubio's staff members joked they should protest, just to make him mad.
Crist adviser Dan Gelber said Gov. Rick Scott threatened to boycott last Friday's Telemundo debate in Miramar if Crist used a small, 5-inch portable fan in the studio. He said the network's debate producer, Maria Barrios, agreed to Crist's request.
Crist insisted on one under the podium Wednesday night at Bailey Hall at Broward College in Davie.
Debate rules typically prohibit the use of "electronic devices" on stage to prohibit one candidate from gaining a tactical advantage through the use of a hand-held device like an iPhone.
"They're very small, very discreet. Nobody sees them," Gelber said of the fans. "Anyone who gets hot under the lights knows it's uncomfortable."
Gelber said he expected no problems as both campaigns conducted a routine walk-through Tuesday, and the fan's presence was hinted by an extension cord nearby.
"The Scott people went crazy," Gelber recalled, referring to Scott's debate coach, Brett O'Donnell. "They got their just desserts because they were jerks."
Scott campaign manager Melissa Sellers said, "Crist can bring his fan, microwave, and toaster to debates. None of that will cover up how sad his record as governor was."
The dustup invited comparisons to a 2010 debate between Scott and Democrat Alex Sink at USF. An aide surprised Sink during a commercial break with a cellphone text message.
Scott called her out for breaking the rules, it was a big story for three days and Sink's campaign never recovered.
Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.