1. Opinion

Ruth: Fan dance in Broward

Charlie Crist, and his fan, had the stage to himself for a bit.
Charlie Crist, and his fan, had the stage to himself for a bit.
Published Oct. 17, 2014

If Rick Scott goes down in defeat two weeks from now, he might well attribute his electoral misfortune to a bizarre night in Davie when the Florida governor had his very own "He-Buffoon" moment.

The late Gov. Lawton Chiles set the gold standard for dramatic, debate-turning points 20 years ago when he uttered the most famous line of his political career, "The old he-coon walks just before the light of day." His flummoxed challenger, Jeb Bush, looked as if he had found himself dropped into the middle of an episode of Hee Haw.

With just 10 words, Chiles had deftly defined himself as a native Cracker son of Florida running against a cravenly ambitious interloper.

Wednesday night, over the space of six short minutes, Rick Scott defined himself as a petulant, prickly pansy trying to wriggle out of a debate against Democrat Charlie Crist because his opponent had installed a small fan at the foot of his lectern.

Six minutes of dead airtime on television is an eternity. For Crist, it was six minutes of Christmas. He stood there alone on a dais at Broward College, appearing confident and ready to engage an incumbent governor hiding backstage.

This was so very Florida, where a normally predictable duller-than-a-test-pattern political debate managed to be transformed into Waiting for Godot meets Uncle Fester.

Was the presence of the fan a technical violation of the debate rules that no electronic devices would be permitted on the candidate podiums? Who cares? The real question: Was the governor of Florida in a dead-heat election campaign prepared to hand over 60 minutes of free statewide airtime to his loquacious, politically savvy opponent all because of small fan?

On stage this was a comedy of airs. You have to suspect that backstage it was somewhat more dramatic, that as Scott waffled someone eventually grabbed him by the lapels and said, "Listen up. With each passing second Charlie stands out there in front of a statewide television audience looking gubernatorial, you are only coming off as a huge crybaby. Get out there — now — before Charlie starts practicing the oath of office."

But the damage was done. By now various YouTube clips of Scott's fan fit have been viewed tens of thousands of times. The image of an empty podium was all over the cable news outlets and of course, Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Stephen Colbert were sure to weigh in. In short, the robotic Rick Scott, who has never enjoyed much of a positive image, had by his own hand turned himself into a petty-minded wimpy laughingstock.

Does it matter what either Scott or Crist said once the Brouhaha in Broward began? Probably not. Scott harped on a figure of 832,000 lost jobs during Crist's tenure as governor as if the George Bush-era economic recession had never happened. And although Scott declined to state where he stood on same-sex marriage and thought the state's horribly mangled "stand your ground" vigilante justice law was just peachy, he did manage to mention his late mother at least three times.

For his part, Crist supported an increase in the state's minimum wage law, spoke in favor of same-sex marriage, heralded his environmental record, promoted Florida's potential to be a leader in solar energy and took every opportunity to remind everyone Scott took the Fifth 75 times in a civil case deposition.

This just in: Crist and Scott, both Methodists, read the Bible.

You can pretty well expect images of a serene-looking Crist patiently waiting for a flustered, pouty opponent to show up to debate the pressing issues of the day to dominate the airwaves for the next two weeks. Can you think of a better image to complement the Crist campaign's knock on Scott as "Too shady for the Sunshine State" than a vacant podium?

Here's the good news. Crist and Scott have one more debate scheduled for Tuesday night, which, given last week's Fandango in Davie, ought to attract a fairly sizeable audience tuning in just to see if Scott will arrive in a sedan chair accompanied by GOP apparatchiks refreshing him with leaf blowers.

Perhaps the Crist campaign, in a bipartisan reminder not to sweat the small stuff, will do the sporting thing and send Scott his own fan for the debate.

Or would that be a breath of brash air?