Florida is currently holding a contest between two very strange men to see which one can do the best job pretending to be normal. The winner gets to be governor. And after refusing to go on stage for seven minutes Wednesday night because his opponent had a fan, it seems like incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott may have lost that competition.
At the start of Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate at Broward College, which was being broadcast live, Scott didn’t come on stage because Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate, had an electric fan underneath his podium. The dispute was based on whether the fan was prohibited in the debate rules, which both campaigns had agreed on. Scott insisted it was. However, Crist had apparently added a handwritten annotation to the debate contract noting that he agreed only with the “understanding that the debate hosts will address any temperature issues with a fan if necessary.” Debate organizers, meanwhile, released a statement Thursday saying the use of a fan was against the rules.
Crist’s love of fans is well known. The permatanned, party-switching former Florida governor even had another debate showdown over a fan eight years ago when his opponent in the GOP primary refused to join Crist on stage until they both had fans.
Scott isn’t a stranger to political one-upmanship over debate rules, either. In his first election in 2010, he made political hay over the fact that his opponent violated the rules when a staffer slipped her a note on stage during a commercial break.
The Republican’s campaign has since backtracked over Scott’s refusal to go on stage. In an email to supporters, Scott’s campaign manager said she thought that Crist was talking to debate organizers about the fan when he suddenly appeared on stage. This is true, except that the conversation was taking place on stage with moderators, and being broadcast across the entire state of Florida.
Even with Scott and Crist in a dead heat, it’s unclear how much of impact “fangate” will make. But in a campaign that pits a guy who even supporters give “an A for weirdness” versus a former governor whose political career includes such bizarre moments as an awkward, videotaped apology to David Byrne, throwing a temper tantrum about a fan is not the best way to convince voters that you’re the less odd guy in the race.