If you’ve seen the 30-second attack ads being run by Florida gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum, imagine watching 120 of them back-to-back. That about sums up tonight’s hour-long debate in Tampa.
By this reporter’s informal running count, McCollum directed the word “fraud” at Scott 13 times, in addition to two incidences of “ripped off,” and one of “robbed.” Scott used the word “career politician” to describe McCollum five times, and “insider” four times. And it’s possible I missed some of these remarks.
For sure, the debate held some good jabs.
McCollum defended himself from Scott’s attack that he voted for tax and fee increases 42 times by stating that he only recalls voting for one tax increase, which he later regretted. He then dismissed the idea that his votes for user fees are an issue.
Scott responded, “Oh, gosh, oh, that doesn’t impact anybody? Like police officers that need to get a job? They’re struggling to get a job, you just raised their fee another $50.” He added later, “That’s a tax.”
McCollum, for his part, said he doesn’t believe that Scott was unaware of the fraud at the health care company he led.
“When you were the Columbia HCA CEO, you were so busy micromanaging, and looking into it, and trying to make every dollar, squeeze every dollar out of it, that you changed from Coke to Pepsi. And yet you weren’t aware of the details of what was going on?” McCollum said. “I just can’t believe you weren’t aware of it.”
In between attacks, the two candidates hammered home secondary points. McCollum emphasized his endorsements from GOP stalwarts like Jeb Bush and business organizations like the Florida Chamber of Commerce, while Scott pushed his record as a creator of private-sector jobs.
But if voters were looking for substance and hoping to understand each candidate’s plans for Florida, they largely didn’t find it tonight — a point acknowledged by both sides.
“First of all, tonight I was a little bit surprised and disappointed that we did not get a chance to debate the real issues that I think most of you want to hear about,” McCollum said in a post-debate conference with reporters.