OKEECHOBEE — It was the cheat heard ‘round the world.
Two days after Scott called Sink out in a nationally televised debate after a campaign aide passed Sink a message during the break — a clear violation of the agreed-upon debate rules — the scandal is still the talk of the campaign trail.
“First Alex, you say you always follow the rules,” Scott said after the break in the debate. “The rule was no one was supposed to give us messages during the break, and your campaign did with an iPad, or iPod.”
The Scott camp quickly turned around an ad attacking Sink for the gaffe.
During a campaign stop Wednesday in Fort Myers, Sink was asked what she thought of Scott’s newest ad.
“I haven’t seen it,” Sink said.
Sink said she felt the campaign is continuing to talk about the issue because Scott is “trying to divert attention away from fraud.”
In addition to his ad, Scott addressed the mistake during a bus tour stop in Okeechobee on Wednesday morning. The Naples businessman said he believes the scandal could affect the outcome of the election.
“We can’t have a governor that has a lack of integrity, that will sit there and not follow the rules, knew what the rules were, not follow the rules, and then misrepresent what was going on,” Scott said.
Sink appeared on the Chris Matthews show on MSNBC on Tuesday night in an attempt to give her side of the story.
“What happened was, Chris, last night the makeup artist held up her phone and said ‘I just got this message. I don’t know who it’s from,’” Sink told Matthews. “I looked at it because, you know, I’m a mom. My inclination is, my daughter is in Europe. I don’t know who this message is from. I glanced at it. I didn’t understand even what it was.
“I just ignored it.”
But John King of CNN, the moderator of the debate, said CNN staff listened to the audio and heard the staffer tell Sink that she had “a message from the staff.”
Scott told Fox News on Wednesday morning that if he had been given a message by a staffer during the debate, he wouldn’t have looked at it. Sink fired the aide, Brian May, immediately after the debate.
“She knew the rules. I knew the rules,” Scott said. “She sits there and she accepted the message, and then she said she didn’t know who it came from. It shows a lack of integrity.”
As the governor’s race enters its final days, the Daily News is on the road with the Alex Sink and Rick Scott campaigns. This is the second in a series of reports on Scott’s tour of Florida. Sink’s campaign trip was reported on last week. For more election coverage, return to naplesnews.com and pick up the Daily News now through Tuesday.
Since entering the race in April, Scott has been dogged by questions of integrity for his role in and knowledge of the record $1.7 billion Medicare fraud at his former hospital company, Columbia/HCA, and for appearing deceptive in a subsequent deposition.
Jon Draper, 66, who attended a Scott campaign rally in Lake Placid on Wednesday morning with his wife, Sharon, said he didn’t think the scandal would change the outcome of the election.
“For the same reason that executives don’t always know what’s going on, a candidate doesn’t know exactly what every aide and campaign worker is doing,” he said.
Richard Adam, 77, a retired telephone company worker who also attended the Lake Placid event, agreed.
“I think those things are the little, picky things, and they get away from the actual truth,” Adam said.
About a half-dozen Sink supporters showed up at Scott’s Lake Placid rally to wave signs and show that Sink has support in the area, too.
Elli Million, 82, who chairs the Highland County Democratic Women’s Club, said the alleged cheating scandal is a non-issue, especially since the guilty staffer was fired.
“She thought it was some emergency,” Million said. “That was what was reported this morning. We got e-mails from Sink staff this morning. After all, she knew the rules.
“No one would break the rules unless it was an emergency.”
In addition to Okeechobee and Lake Placids, Scott also campaigned Wednesday in Daytona Beach and Lakeland.
OTHER RECENT DAILY NEWS COVERAGE OF THE GOVERNOR'S RACE
- STAFF PHOTOS: Photos of the 2010 Elections
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- PRECINCTS: An interactive map of early voting sites in Collier and Lee counties
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