Duck… Duck… Debates.
Two major Republican governor candidates are trading barbs about who is playing political games and ducking a public debate.
The debate about debates got underway this week following claims from candidate Rick Scott’s camp that state Attorney General Bill McCollum was not responding to Scott’s offering for a series of four debates earlier this month. McCollum’s camp countered with allegations that it’s actually Scott who is not responding to scheduling requests from McCollum.
Scott, a Naples businessman and political newcomer, is leading the race by 5 points according a Florida Chamber of Commerce poll released June 18. Thirty-three percent of Floridians are still undecided, according to the poll.
Scott’s campaign website said his camp challenged McCollum to debates about two weeks ago “in a move that was both gracious and exceedingly rare for a frontrunner.” That challenge was made both publicly and through a letter to McCollum’s campaign. Scott’s campaign charged that McCollum had not offered “an official, direct response” to that challenge.
“I think it’s clear Rick Scott wants to debate,” Baker said. “Bill McCollum wants to play silly games.”
McCollum’s camp denied that allegation.
Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for the McCollum campaign, said they have called Scott’s campaign, as well as sent e-mails and letters in attempts to schedule debates.
Earlier this week, McCollum’s campaign released two letters to the media addressed to the Scott campaign on the debate debacle.
In those letters, campaign manager Matt Williams wrote that McCollum was ready to debate Scott and would like to start their series sooner rather than later.
He also took time to criticize Scott on campaign tactics.
“Moreover, while Mr. Scott has offered empty platitudes on important issues like immigration and health care,” Williams wrote, “he has failed to put forth any real solution for our state’s challenges.”
In an interview with the Daily News, Campbell speculated that Scott was avoiding confrontation so he could not be challenged on his past.
“He does not seem to want to be questioned about anything,” she said. “I feel that it’s obviously a desire to avoid questions.”
“That’s laughable,” Baker said, then slammed the accuracy of both letters.
She countered by alleging that McCollum was more focused on playing to the media, than actually making a serious effort to negotiate debates with Scott’s campaign.
“We are the ones that challenged them to a debate,” she said. “We’ve done it in a professional way, not through the media.”
While both camps accuse the other of avoiding debate, they also claim their candidates truly want to debate for the benefit of voters.
“Of course Rick Scott would like to debate Bill McCollum on issues,” Baker said, “so voters know the difference between the two on issues.”
“We’re willing to debate,” Campbell said. “We’re willing to do it now.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, no debates had been scheduled.
Baker said Scott’s campaign would call McCollum’s to discuss a debate schedule.
When asked when she thought a debate schedule would be announced, she said, “That will be up to Bill McCollum.”
The primary election is August 24.