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Lesser Known Candidates Clamor For Debate

Looking out on a crowd from behind a podium.
Joe Hardy via Flickr

The deadline has passed for Florida’s gubernatorial candidates to get their names on the ballot, and hopefuls are turning their sights to their party’s primary.  But for some lesser known competitors, the first battle is just getting a chance to debate. 

On the Democratic side of the aisle, friction between Florida’s former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and former Democratic State Sen. Nan Rich has been well documented.  Rich has been agitating for months to debate the former Republican governor and she says Floridians agree with her.

“He certainly has been avoiding me, and again, if you claim to be the people’s governor, then you need to listen to the people,” Rich says.  “And 89% of Florida democrats in a [Public Policy Polling] poll have said that they want a gubernatorial primary debate, so we’re going to keep asking for that.”

And Republicans have noticed.  Current Republican Gov. Rick Scott has latched on to Crist’s refusal to debate.  The Republican Party has even gone so far as to launch a website counting the days Crist has spent avoiding Rich.

But now Scott has challengers of his own.   When asked at a recent press event if he would debate them Scott balked, saying only “I haven’t – I don’t even – I haven’t even met them yet,” before leaving.

Scott faces competition for the Republican nomination from Yinka Adeshina and Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder.  Unlike Rich, neither of these candidates has been elected to public office. 

Adeshina’s campaign has raised questions for a number of abnormalities including campaign contributions from addresses that don’t exist, and a campaign website filled out with what appear to be stock images and text. 

Cuevas-Neunder wants the chance to debate Scott.

“Well first of all, I think it would be very healthy, for him to have a debate,” Cuevas-Neunder says.

Cuevas-Neunder is frustrated both parties appear to be sidelining female challengers.

“Definitely, we know what we are talking about,” Cuevas-Neunder says.  “We women know what we are talking about, and not to debate us is a serious mistake because Florida has 54% of the voters are women [sic].”

Now Rich is calling for the Republican race to hold a primary debate just as Scott has for the Democratic race. 

“[Scott] said when he heard that Charlie Crist would not debate me, he said I’m not going to debate him until he debates his primary opponent.  And I said, I answered by saying, that’s the first time probably I’ve agreed with Rick Scott in four years,” Rich says.  “But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and I think that everybody should debate.  That’s part of the strength, that’s part of the democratic process.”

On the outside looking in is Adrian Wyllie.  He’s the Libertarian candidate for governor.  While Democratic and Republican frontrunners seem to shy from the podium, Wyllie wishes there was a challenger for him to spar with.

“I was kind of hoping somebody would challenge me in a primary,” Wyllie says, “I think it would be great to have the first third-party statewide primary in Florida’s history.”

Wyllie says Scott and Crist are avoiding opponents to hide their records.

“Well it’s no surprise, because both Rick Scott and Charlie Crist have horrendous records,” Wyllie says, “and they know that in a debate format, any opponent – myself included – is going to bring up those records, to make sure that the voters remember their performance as former governors of the state of Florida.”

So far, Wyllie has been invited to two of the four debates scheduled for the general election, and his campaign is in talks to join the remainder.  But despite the full slate of debates for the general, there’s still no word on any debates for the primaries.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.