TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - The Republican and Democratic candidates in Florida’s dead-heat race for the governorship squabbled on Thursday over what caused the bizarre delay of a live televised debate that has been dubbed “Fangate.”
Famously purple in presidential races, the country’s largest swing state has been a bleak mid-term battleground for Democrats in the two decades since the party last won a governor’s race.
At the debate on Wednesday night, Republican Governor Rick Scott was missing as Democrat Charlie Crist took the stage alone. He finally appeared after several minutes.
Moderators said Scott would not come out over a disagreement about a small cooling fan under Crist’s podium, near his feet.
On Thursday, debate organizers said Crist broke the rules that prohibited electronic devices at the candidates’ lecterns, and they acknowledged confusion leading up to the debate’s start.
“We regret that one candidate was allowed to take the stage and allowed to talk before the fan issue was resolved,” Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association said in a joint statement.
Pundits opined that the perceived gaffe could derail Scott, whose campaign has stalled in the polls in recent weeks while Crist appeared to gain traction. On Thursday, #fangate was still trending on Twitter.
“Watching this whole debate thing play out is like getting hit by a car and getting killed but being in the right,” noted a Tweet that the Miami Herald’s political writer attributed to an unnamed Scott supporter. “Being in the right is nice, but you are still dead.”
Crist supporters circulated a video montage of media outlets joking about the incident, with a cool-looking Crist appearing amused as the television cameras panned down to the fan whirling at his feet. Hashtags such as “fantrum,” “fanghazi” and “fanbola” exploded on social media, recalling Florida’s troubled history with elections.
The fan has been an ubiquitous campaign accessory for Crist, the state’s former Republican governor who is now seeking the job back as a Democrat.
Since 2009, a Twitter account called “Charlie Crist’s Fan” has posted, and dubbed itself the politician’s only friend: “I go wherever he goes. I keep him calm, cool and sweat-free.”
“Charlie was throwing a fit,” Scott told reporters on Thursday morning, in a video clip mockingly circulated by Florida Democrats.
In a fundraising pitch, Crist wrote to supporters: “A little fan scaring away a sitting governor? Come on!”
Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, G Crosse and Eric Walsh