DAVIE, Fla. (AP) – The Florida governor's race that was already one of the most negative in the state's history became even nastier— and weirder — as Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist fought over everything from self-defense laws and the economy to the use of an electric fan during a debate Wednesday night.
The start of the second debate was delayed by about five minutes as confused panelists pointed out that neither candidate was on stage. At that moment, Crist walked out and the audience was told Scott was refusing to join him because Crist had a small fan inside his lectern. Scott felt it violated the rule prohibiting the use of electronic devices. The panelists spent a few minutes deciding what to do, with Crist insisting the debate go on without Scott.
The governor eventually walked on stage, and Crist kept his fan. With that flap over, the candidates continued the attacks on each other that have marked the campaign. There is little common ground between Scott and Crist, which Crist noted after both men talked about their faith in God.
"I'm happy to be a Methodist, too. Maybe it's the only thing we agree on, Rick," said Crist, who preceded Scott as governor before he switched parties from Republican to Democrat.
The candidates disagreed on gay marriage and Florida's "stand your ground" law, as well as how each has handled education and the environment. They also blamed each other for rising utility costs.
When the candidates were asked if justice was served when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder for fatally shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin last year, Crist used the opportunity to suggest amending the stand your ground law, which allows use of deadly force if people are in fear for their lives.
"Everyone believes in that American premise and it is the right thing to do to defend yourself and your property," Crist said. "But when it gets to the point where you have a statute on the books that allows the instigator ... to end up killing another human being after they started the incident, there is something fundamentally wrong with that law."
Scott said Martin's death was tragic, but the law should remain as is.
"I believe in the right to defend yourself. I can't imagine losing a child like that but I have talked to sheriffs and police chiefs," Scott said. "I stand with them that we need to have the existing law in place."
As he has done throughout the campaign, Scott blamed Crist for rising unemployment during the recession and took credit for lower unemployment during the recovery.
"Charlie is the zero-wage governor: 832,000 people went from wages to zero wages when Charlie was governor," Scott said.
Crist quickly shot back.
"Rick, there you go again, trying to blame the global economic meltdown on me. It is unbelievable that he would continue to say that, but he says it. And he also says he created all these new jobs all by himself," said Crist. "You just can't trust Rick. And it's sad. It's unfortunate."
Scott also tried to blame Crist for a law that allowed Duke Energy to collect money from customers for a nuclear power plant on Florida's Gulf Coast that will never be built.
"That's not true. That was Jeb Bush," Crist said to audience applause.
Bush signed the bill in 2006 that Scott referred to, but Crist signed a separate bill amending the law to add language that also allowed power plants to charge customers for the cost to run transmission lines from nuclear power plants.
Scott was asked if Florida's constitutional ban on gay marriage was discriminatory, but he refused to directly answer the question, even when asked a second time. He did say he supports traditional marriage.
Crist said he supports gay marriage.
"Who is it for us to tell other people who to love and what is it in our right to tell other people who to marry?" Crist said.
Scott then pointed out Crist supported the gay marriage ban when it passed in 2008.
"We don't know what Charlie believes on this issue because he's taken every side on this issue," Scott said.