Fan nearly derails Scott-Crist debate

By Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

After tens of millions of dollars worth of television commercials and the slinging of massive amounts of mud, could the Florida gubernatorial election come down to an electric fan?

In the latest strange chapter in the always-fascinating politics of Florida, Gov. Rick Scott skipped the first few minutes of a televised debate Wednesday with his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist, because of the presence of an electric fan at Crist’s feet.

Actually, debate organizers were unsure at first whether either of the candidates would be on stage, though Crist strode out as moderator Eliott Rodriguez tried to explain the situation to the audience.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have an extremely peculiar situation right now,” Rodriguez said.

Scott eventually came out as well, but the incident brought a whole new meaning to the “spin room,” where surrogates for the two candidates gathered and tried to make sense of a nonsensical turn of events.

The Crist camp’s description of events: They had learned that after an event last week featuring CNN anchor Candy Crowley, the stage at the remodeled venue, Bailey Hall at Broward College, was described as uncomfortably warm. Debate organizers promised to fix the problem – with fans if necessary.

“They said they were going to fix it,” said former state Sen. Dan Gelber, who signed the debate agreement on Crist’s behalf. “And they said … if they don’t, they’ll have something available.”

The Crist campaign quickly produced the copy of the rules they signed, where Gelber had written in “with understanding that the debate hosts will address any temperature issues with a fan if necessary.”

But Scott’s supporters countered that the fan violated the rules of the debate, and Rodriguez said in the opening moments of the debate that a copy of the rules showed to him by the incumbent’s campaign indicated the fan shouldn’t be on the stage.

In fact, Scott’s camp said, it was Crist who threatened to pull the plug on the event if the fan was not plugged in.

“When I got here today for this debate, I was told that Charlie Crist was going to cancel the debate, because unless there was a fan on that stage, he would not come out,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “So I think that Governor Scott was waiting to see if Charlie would actually pull that off or not.”

Scott and others said he didn’t immediately take the stage at the beginning of the debate because he wanted to make sure Crist did.