Florida Faces Ridicule As 'FanGate' Jokes Go National

Oct 17, 2014

Democratic challenger for the Florida governorship Charlie Crist stands alone, save for his fan.
Credit Andrew Innerarity / Reuters

The second of three Florida gubernatorial debates happened this week, but most of the attention is being paid to a spat over an electric fan.  Some pundits are calling it one of the most bizarre moments in recent Florida political history.

It started off with these words:

“We have been told Governor Rick Scott will not be participating in this debate," said CBS4’s Eliott Rodriguez, who attempted to viewers and listeners of the Florida Press Association/Leadership Florida debate why there was only one candidate onstage: Charlie Crist.

The culprit: an electric fan on the floor of Crist’s podium which the Scott campaign, and debate organizers say was against the rules.

“The debate rules as it pertains to electronic devices, was that they were not to be permitted, and that includes fans," says Florida Press Association President Dean Ridings. The Crist campaign submitted a signed contract for the debate, but included a handwritten caveat that said any temperature issues would be addressed by the presence of a fan. Ridings says he saw the note, but was preoccupied with trying to address a lawsuit brought by Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie, who had sued to get into the debate.

“The partners were focused on the defense at that moment," Ridings says. "I received the email myself. The partners want to make sure all candidates are comfortable during the debate. If there had been a temperature issue we would have certainly been willing to address it, so I didn’t have a concern about the comment."

The temperature an hour before for the debate was 67-degrees. In the preceding hour, the electric oscillator appeared at the base of Crist’s podium and at 7 pm, when the debate started, stuff hit the fan.

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Comedian Steven Colbert of Comedy Central’s Colbert Report lampooned the debate performance, and Florida State University political scientist Carol Weissert says the whole "fangate' affair has once again made Florida into a national joke.

“I think for, in the day after, dismay, because this just sets Florida up for ridicule," she says. "It’s quite annoying and totally undeserved and unnecessary, I think.”  

Meanwhile, absent from the fray, but still very much a part of the gubernatorial campaign is Libertarian Adrian Wyllie. So far, he’s been left out of both debates, but in response to Wednesday’s debate, Wyllie to the Associated Press, he’s the only adult in the room. Wyllie has sought to distance himself from both Scott and Crist.

“That’s what we’ve seen throughout this election. My opponents haven’t really been talking about their plan or what they’re going to do to make the lives of Floridians better. They’re just attacking one another and that’s extremely sad," Wyllie says.

Recent polls show Scott and Crist in a dead heat. Wyllie is getting around 10 percent support. It may not be enough to win the election, but it’s enough to change the political winds. The third and final debate will be October 21st on CNN. 

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Follow Lynn Hatter on twitter @HatterLynn