Sink scores on substance in first prime time debate, but wil it matter?

When it came to explaining if they supported SB6, the education bill sponsored by GOP state Senator John Thrasher that was bitterly opposed by the teacher unions as well as most parents (and ultimately vetoed by Governor Charlie Crist), Scott said he supported it.  However, later on he said that with a daughter who taught special needs kids, he believes those instructors need to be treated differently — which is one argument Crist used when he did veto the legislation.

Sink was put on the defensive when asked about her role in administering the state's pension fund. That's when she tried to turn the tables, bringing up an inconvenient truth that the state of Florida had sued Scott personally for insider trading.

Scott dismissed that lawsuit (one of many he's been involved with), saying they were fishing expeditions, "frivolous lawsuits by trial lawyers, the same trial lawyers backing my opponents."

St. Pete Times political editor Adam Smith asked several piercing questions, but his attempt to put the candidates on the spot by asking them to try to find something positive about their opponents fizzled, when both blandly talked about how their opponents had lovely families.  Snore.

Sink then criticized Rick Scott for blowing off editorial boards, where he would need to come up with something more beyond vapid sound bites. But Scott scored in his retort, when he said that he's chosen to spend his time directly with the voters. Point to the bald CEO, as most people loathe the media and may actually cheer that he's blown off the press.

Scott was asked about his proposal to drug-test welfare recipients, red meat for social conservatives. Sink said she would consider the proposal, but wanted to see how much the plan would cost the taxpayers.

On the volatile issue of property insurance, Scott incorrectly blasted Sink for failing to deal with the situation, criticizing the fact that Citizens Insurance has now 1.2 million policy holders, and sounded sympathetic to insurance companies, many who have gouged the Florida populace, even though it's five full years since there's been any major hurricane in Florida.  Sink said she would oppose Scott's plan to deregulate insurance rates.  "There needs to be a way to keep insurance companies honest, deregulation is not the answer, " she said.

Perhaps Scott's worst response was when he was asked what he would do to deal with the foreclosure crisis. He said that through his 7-7-7 plan, he'd help that foreclosed homeowner with a job, and then home value will go up.

Hey, that sounds pretty good! Maybe Charlie Crist could do that now to cure our ills.

Some analysts estimate that Florida loses as much as $2 billion every year on such internet purchases from out-of-state retailers who don't collect and remit the tax, and one of the biggest business groups in the state, the Florida Retail Foundation, advocated earlier this year for such a tax.

But that word can be toxic, so both Sink and Scott said they were against it, though Sink expressed sympathy for retail businesses who are being hurt by the unfairness of it, and added that "down the road," she would work with the Legislature to address it, a remark that conservatives on Twitter pounced on, as did Scott, who said "she's going to impose some tax."

That led to Sink channeling Ronald Reagan circa 1984, saying "There you go again," and said it was just more dirt being flung by the former Columbia/HCA executive.

On substance, Sink was the winner.  But on style, calling your opponent an Obama-lovin' tax-increasing, anti-business liberal (actually, Scott didn't use the L-word), might be just enough for Florida voters, since the polls clearly show that Scott's checkered business past has not had any real impact on what voters think about him — not a majority anyhow.

With various polls showing that the race for Florida's governor to be perhaps the closest in the nation, Alex Sink and Rick Scott engaged in a crucial prime time debate on Wednesday night from Nova Southeastern College.

Rick Scott had very little specifics to offer, other than his famed "7-7-7" economic plan, but he made certain to label Sink a "Tallahassee insider and Obama liberal," whereas he called himself an outsider with a lot of life experiences.

Those magic words could be good enough to send Scott to Tallahassee to become that insider he has inveighed against since he entered the governor's race last spring.

The hour-long forum began with the candidates being asked how they would attempt to revive the state's stagnant economy.  Sink said specifically she would call for giving tax cuts to businesses  who agree to hire more Floridians.  She did not exactly say how she would bring new industries to the state, another tenet she says is part of her main plan.

Although Scott has plenty of (controversial) specifics in his plan to create 7 million jobs in 7 years, he was equally vague in saying that the state, with all of its natural and government-led resources (no state income tax, his plan to eliminate the business tax, the beaches, etc.) should be number one in the country for job creation.

When the candidates were asked what they plan to cut to deal with next year's budget deficit, which is estimated at around $2.5 billion, Sink said she plans to cut $700 million by eliminating middle management jobs, and also try to find savings through finding Medicaid fraud.

Scott then cranked up his assortment of prepared attacks by asking what taxes would Sink raise, since she intends to cut $700 million.  Sink called that charge outlandish, saying, "Rick, we can't trust anything you say, you've been throwing mud and negative ads, and your charges are outlandish," further labeling his charge a "fairy tale fabrication."

The attacks really started flying at that point.

On several occasions Scott chastised Sink for failing to respond to a letter sent by Scott ally Mike Haridopolos, the incoming Senate president, on how she planned to pay for her proposed programs.  "What is the number you're proposing," Scott called out.  "Obama math is not going to work here.  What tax will you increase?"

That led Sink to get off one of the best laughs of the night, saying, "I don't know what Obama math is.  I was a 4.0 math major at Wake Forest, and I know how to add."

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