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Crist agrees to second debate

Published October 17, 2006

TALLAHASSEE -- Charlie Crist agreed Tuesday to debate Jim Davis a second time on TV, after winning approval for the use of traditional podiums that could lessen the impact of moderator Chris Matthews.

Crist agreed to participate in the second encounter, to be broadcast live at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 on Florida’s NBC stations, including  WFLA-Channel 8 in Tampa, where it will take place.

“We always figured it would eventually work itself out,” said WFLA news director Don North.

Crist’s campaign had begun negotiating for a second debate on their terms on CBS stations.

But Crist agreed to take part after prevailing in his demand that both men stand at podiums in a traditional debate format, with Matthews, host of the MSNBC political talkfest Hardball, seated a few feet away.

An earlier format had the two candidates facing each other with all three men seated at the same desk, similar to NBC’s “Meet the Press,” which might have played better to Matthews’ hard-charging interview style.

That earlier written description of the format, to which Crist’s campaign objected, said: “The debate format will be unstructured and informal with Chris Matthews asking all of the questions.”

Scoffing at that format as a “talk show,” Crist’s senior campaign adviser, George LeMieux balked. LeMieux said Crist had no objection to Matthews as moderator, but he wanted a format that “features the candidates, not the host.”

Another change from an earlier version is that each candidate will have 30 seconds to rebut his rival’s answer.
North, the news executive who negotiated with both campaigns, said the station did not capitulate to Crist’s demands.

“This is not a dramatic change from what we have been talking about all along,” North said. “But they clearly were interested in having a podium and Congressman Davis said he would go along with it, so we changed.”

Davis’ spokesman, Josh Earnest, said the campaign agreed to ensure that the debate would take place.

“The people of Florida deserve to hear from the candidates about the important issues facing the state,” Earnest said. “That’s more important than minor tweaks in the format.”

Crist spokeswoman Erin Isaac said, “He is pleased with the traditional debate format and believes it will help demonstrate the clear differences between the candidates.”

In a statement, Davis’ campaign again criticized Crist for not appearing at several planned joint appearances since the Sept. 5 primary.

“After spending the last six weeks hiding behind his party’s misleading television ads, Charlie now will have to settle for hiding behind a podium,” Earnest said in a statement.

The first Crist-Davis debate will be broadcast on PBS stations at 8 p.m. next Tuesday, Oct. 24, and will be moderated by Ray Suarez of The NewsHour on PBS.

Steve Bousquet is at or (850) 224-7263.

[Last modified October 17, 2006, 19:35:15]

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