Despite the best attempts by WEDU-TV moderator Rob Lorei, there was little buzz that evolved out of the final debate in the CD13 contest between Republican David Jolly, Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby. The broadcast, to be aired on the Tampa PBS affiliate on Friday night at 8:30 p.m. and repeated Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m., is the last time the candidates will be seen by such a wide audience in the week and a half left before the March 11 special election.
Social Security, abortion, Iraq, Cuba, Medicare Advantage, campaign finance and tax reform were all issues discussed in the half-hour forum, but nothing about the story that has dominated the past few days of the campaign — Sink's comments regarding immigration during Tuesday's Clearwater Chamber of Commerce forum that Jobby labeled as "disgusting" on Thursday.
Jolly had the opportunity to engage Sink on the issue when the candidates were allowed to query one another, but instead he opted to challenge her to back up a recent comment on WUSF radio that she had just recently discovered what was wrong with Obamacare.
When asked after the debate why he did not bring up Sink's comment, Jolly said there wasn't time to do so but was still awaiting her response after three days. "I don't think she's issued much of a clarification or an apology."
Sink's comment on Tuesday when discussing one of the benefits of fixing the illegal immigration situation was that "because we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? And we don't need to put those employers in the position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers."
But what was far less reported was that she followed up by talking about the case of Jose Godinez-Samperio, the Armwood High and Florida State graduate who passed the Florida bar, but has not been allowed to practice law in Florida because of his undocumented status.
Perhaps the most intense exchange came when it was time for Sink to ask Jolly a question. She mentioned how he has been on record as saying he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, and that he had been endorsed by an "extreme organization that wouldn't provide for abortion even in the case of rape and incest." She also said that he did not support equal pay for equal work. Sink said that she was met with surprise recently from a group of Republican women when she informed them of that fact.
"Alex, you continue to misrepresent me on that," Jolly replied icily. "I have never said that I would ban all abortions. Your commercial attributes that to me. I've embraced exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother." He went on to say that age and gender discrimination should be illegal.
"You've misrepresented my position on television," he continued. "You've done it with people in the community and voters deserve better. They deserve better. They deserve honesty on those issues."
"Well I'm glad to hear your clarifying your positions," Sink said.
"You're welcome," Jolly shot back twice.
Overby then asked Jolly that for all for all of his boasting about the work that he and former Congressman Young had done for military veterans, how could he justify the work that saw "extreme cuts to the pay benefits for families of military as well as increasing the amount of money wasted on special ops projects?"
Jolly said that often Young was dealing with budgets submitted by "this president," and that there had been no greater advocate for the troops than Bill Young. Overby retorted that he was talking about the budget cuts during the Iraq war, when George W. Bush was commander in chief.
"Which cuts?" Jolly replied. But before Overby could respond Lorei moved on to a new subject.
On Iraq, Jolly and Overby said that it was appropriate based on the intelligence known at the time that the U.S. invaded Saddam Hussein's country, though Sink laughed and said "given what we know now" it was not a good decision. When asked by Lorei if they would agree that if they were to vote to go to war that they would also agree to raise taxes to pay for it, all three strongly backed away from that idea. But Sink said that one of her biggest concerns "as a moderate and fiscal conservative" was that the country went into Iraq without a plan to pay for it.
Lorei later asked another provocative question when it came to campaign donations from big money interests: Are they a form of legalized bribery? Jolly and Sink said no. Overby said yes, adding that his solution would be capping the level of spending to the amount that the particular office makes (which in the case of a Representative would be $175,000).
Recently the issue of normalizing relations with Cuba has created something of a fissure amongst Florida Democrats, with both of the party's gubernatorial candidates, Charlie Crist and Nan Rich, saying it was time for a new policy. But others, like Senator Bill Nelson, still say it's not. Jolly and Sink were on the same page on this issue, with Sink giving some window to changing her position by saying that "I will be open-minded about the trade embargo as time goes on." Overby said the time for open relations was now.
Although there was no knockout winner among the three candidates, Sink was definitely the loser amongst the press corps, as she blew off reporters looking to get comments immediately afterwards. Both Jolly and Overby did field questions. Cameramen from Bay News 9 and WTSP-Channel 10 were overheard complaining to their news desks that they would not be able to show Sink in the packages they would be sending back to their newsrooms. Sink has previously been blasted in the media for calling for fewer debates than the other candidates, as well as denying NBC News the opportunity to broadcast last Tuesday's Clearwater Chamber of Commerce forum.