- The Washington Times
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

In the aftermath of their first debate Tuesday night, Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott accused his opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, of trying to wriggle out of another debate, one scheduled on CNN for Oct. 16 in Tampa.

The Nelson campaign immediately fired back Wednesday, insisting that not only will it participate in the CNN debate but they’d like to see the candidates sworn in beforehand.

The feisty exchange came the morning after the two squared off in their first televised debate, hosted by the Spanish language channel Telemundo and held in a Miramar studio near Miami.

Although both men offered some short comments in Spanish — horribly accented but with Mr. Scott considerably more fluent than Mr. Nelson — the bilingual nature of the debate made it a somewhat wooden affair at times with both politicians relying on repeated use of various talking points.

One that Mr. Scott referred to multiple times was that Mr. Nelson has had decades in Washington in which he has accomplished very little, making him a sort of non-stop advertisement for term limits. Mr. Nelson, on the other hand, frequently criticized Mr. Scott’s truthfulness, saying the election will come down to “trust and integrity.”

Given that rather repetitive aura, the Scott campaign was quick to assert it had won the debate if only on the strength of the governor’s energy and command of the material. As the clear loser, according to Mr. Scott’s backers, Mr. Nelson was obviously trying to dodge a rematch by now insisting a change in the previously agreed upon rules of the CNN debate.

“Following last night’s embarrassing debate performance, Senator Bill Nelson and his handlers do not want Florida voters to have the opportunity to see the contrast between the Senator and Governor Scott,” Mr. Scott’s campaign blared.

Asked about the situation, a Nelson campaign spokesman said the story isn’t true.

“It’s 1,000 percent false, just like everything else Scott says,” spokesman Ryan Brown replied. “He just makes things up.”

The Florida race has been neck-and-neck for months, according to prognosticators. Mr. Nelson led early, Mr. Scott led mid-summer, and recent polls have again given Mr. Nelson a narrow edge but all political oddsmakers rate the election a toss-up.

The debate contretemps apparently arose over the time of the CNN debate, which is to begin at 10 p.m. Eastern time. CNN thought that would draw the largest viewership but the Scott campaign alleges Mr. Nelson would rather move up the time slot, a desire it attributes to what it calls the senator’s “disjointed rambling,” Tuesday night.

The Nelson campaign disputes it made any effort to dodge a debate.

“We will be at the CNN debate on Oct. 16 at the appointed time,” Mr. Brown said. “And we hope it’s under oath.”

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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