MIAMI- (CBS4) – Throughout this week’s gubernatorial debate, Democrat Alex Sink stayed on the attack, questioning the fitness of her Republican rival, Rick Scott.
When the moderator of the debate referred to Scott as a successful businessman, Sink acted incredulous. “I don’t think that leading a large hospital corporation that was charged with the largest Medicare fraud fine in the history of this country would rate him as being a highly successful CEO, when his board had to ask him to leave the company,” she said. “I think there’s an issue of trust here and character and integrity.”
For his part, Scott countered by doing everything he could to tie Sink, the state’s Chief Financial Officer, with the President.
“My opponent is clearly an Obama liberal,” Scott said.
At one point, after accusing her of proposing $12 billion in new spending while only offering $700 million in budget cuts, Scott said: “Obama math doesn’t work here.”
“I don’t know what Obama math is,” Sink offered in the best line of the night. “What I do know is I was a 4.0 math major at Wake Forest University.”
But it was the punch not thrown by Sink that will perhaps define Wednesday’s debate.
In both the debate and in his most recent television commercials, Scott tries to paint Sink as a “Tallahassee insider” and someone who is responsible for Florida’s problems.
“If you like the path we’re on with the insiders running everything, I’m not your candidate,” Scott says in his most recent TV ad.
Sink never found an effective response. I kept waiting for her to turn to Scott in the debate and say, “I don’t know what state you’ve been living in, but here in Florida the state House is controlled by Republicans, the state Senate is controlled by Republicans, and for the last 12 years we’ve had Republican governors. So if you really want change why would you elect another Republican?”
After the debate, former Democratic Senator Bob Graham praised Sink for her performance especially when weighed against Scott’s stoic demeanor. “I thought the appearance of the two candidates with striking,” Graham said. “Rick Scott was stern, almost plastic with no sense of humor. To me that conveys some important insight into his personality and leadership.”
Graham however acknowledged Sink could have done a better job reminding folks that it is the Republicans who control Tallahassee not the Democrats.
“That was the elephant in the room – no pun intended,” Graham said. “He was really attacking the record of his own party. Maybe the fact that he is so new to Florida he doesn’t realize it’s the Republicans who have been in charge.”
Chad Colby, a spokesman for the Scott campaign, said Scott is interested in shaking up how business is done in Tallahassee – and that includes challenging the Republicans who have been in charge.
“Rick ran as an outsider who is going to change the way Tallahassee works,” Colby explained.
Nevertheless, Sink can’t simply allow Scott to tar her as a Tallahassee insider without at least punching back against the GOP.
Although Sink appeared to have a sharper command of issues and how state government works, there were moments when she seemed lost during the debate, pausing and then awkwardly smiling while she pondered what to say.
“I think the fact they are both not long-term, overly polished politicians makes them more likely to be nervous, and I think Floridians find that endearing,” said Susan MacManus, a political analyst and professor at the University of South Florida.
MacManus said she believed Sink “connected better with the voters because of her smiling and her humor.”
Scott, she said, comes across more serious and businesslike.
“They definitely each came into the debate with a strategy,” she said. “What I don’t think worked for either of them was the slicing and dicing of their business resumes.”
But the slicing and dicing will almost certainly continue through the final week of the campaign. Polls show the race a virtual tie. And with their third and final debate scheduled for Monday at 8 pm on CNN you can expect neither of them to pull any punches.