Tonight was the first of two gubernatorial debates between Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist and Democrat Congressman Jim Davis. (Reform Party candidate Max Linn was denied participation by an appeals court earlier today.)
Although both Davis and Crist seemed to provide some decent substance, Crist’s affable style and charisma might be the only way to give either candidate the edge. Much like Governor Jeb Bush, Charlie’s optimism is his biggest strength; and tonight it showed.
We at the State of Sunshine know that we are not the first to say that these evens should not really be “debates” when they are really a procession of oft-repeated sound bytes and talking points. How many times could Charlie Crist mention that Davis has missed votes? How many times could Jim Davis say that Crist wants to “stay the course?” Davis kept saying that Crist’s plan for property tax relief would take four years, that he would stand up to insurance companies, that some special inerests have given money to his opponent. Crist repeated that rhetoric must match records. Okay, we get it, you’re staying on message.
So what were the messages?
In education, Davis wants to end the FCAT – it is causing schools to underperform and lowering our graduation rates and SAT scores. Charlie supports it – measuring schools to make sure students get a year’s worth of learning in a year’s time. Both want to raise teacher salaries and increase funding.
On property taxes, Crist wants to double the homestead exemption and allow the Save Our Homes cap to be portable. Davis wants to give property owners $1 billion next year. Crist thinks that local governments have grown too much, and Davis thinks that special interest groups need to pay their share.
On property insurance, Davis’ plan would lower premiums next year, but he never said how. He said Crist’s plan would take time to work. Crist said Davis’ plan would be on the back of taxpayers, while he wants to end the cherry picking and shell game insurance companies play.
Still, there were areas where they actually agreed. Both candidates support bringing drugs from Canada and negotiating with drug companies for lower prices. Both candidates also support Senator Mel Martinez’ plan on illegal immigration. Although on these issues, Davis and Crist used different verbage to say the same thing.
There were two questions about conservative issues that drew interesting responses from Charlie Crist. On the question of Terri Schiavo, he said government should not intervene – that it was an issue between the family and God. Moreover, Crist said that he would not advocate changing current abortion laws despite his pro-life position. In a year where turnout could help decide a lot of races, the Christian Conservative based of the Republican party have to be feeling left out.
In the end, Davis came across a bit strong – if only because Crist was working to come across as the more positive candidate. Crist mentioned that Davis wasn’t happy, but that he himself was “a happy lawyer, an optimist.” Their persona and attitude’s tonight provided a clear difference to the way each of them would approach the job as governor.
Finally, Crist said that he wants to be the people’s governor. Anytime we hear “the people’s” anything, we can’t help but think about “The People’s Champion” – a Universit of Miami grad – The Rock. Now he would be interesting to have in a debate. Maybe then people would actually watch.
Instead, next week we get Chris Matthews.