Florida's democratic gubernatorial candidates are debating how many debates to have
Three major Democrats are seeking their party's nomination for governor and a chance to take on Republican Ron DeSantis in November. Now, they're arguing over how often to debate each other.
Charlie Crist is the best known and best financed of the three Democrats running for governor, and he's making his seventh try for statewide office. In an interview, the St. Petersburg congressman said he has agreed to debate his opponents - Nikki Fried and Annette Taddeo - only once, and that his time is better spent doing other things.
"It's not going to happen because I have other stuff I want to do, like talk to voters," Crist said. "I'm not going to convince my opponents to vote for me, so I want to win, and the way you win is go out and talk to voters. It's more important to me."
Fried, the agriculture commissioner and only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, has proposed five live debates. Fried needs to improve her statewide name recognition, and one way to do that is to be on statewide TV. She also said Crist -- a former Republican governor and Republican attorney general who used to be pro-gun and anti-abortion -- should be forced to defend his record.
"He has a tremendously long track record. The people of our state have a right to hear his path and hear his explanation as to why so many of the issues that we're fighting about today are issues that he helped cause. The fact of the matter is, his refusal to debate me as the only statewide elected Democrat is so disrespectful to me and the voters, but this is the second time he's done this to a female," Fried said. "The people of the state need to know who their elected officials are and what positions they're going to fight for.”
Fried referred to Crist's last statewide campaign eight years ago, when he ran for governor and refused to debate Democratic primary opponent Nan Rich.
“I've said yes to all of them. We shouldn't be afraid of debates,” said Taddeo, the third Democrat and a state senator from Miami.
One of Florida's most experienced political strategists, Mac Stipanovich, who supports Crist, said the front-runner's strategy is a political tradition.
"When you're the front-runner, debates are like picking a lieutenant governor," Stipanovich said. "There's no upside. It's all risk. So I think he has to appear with the two of them at least once to indicate that he's not afraid of being on the stage with them exchanging views."
The one scheduled TV debate is set for Thursday, July 21, in the Miami-area studios of NBC 6. Because it is being simulcast in Spanish on Florida's Telemundo stations, Crist said he counts it as two debates. "It's kind of a two-fer," he said.