Democratic newcomer Charlie Crist says he has no plans to debate his leading rival, Nan Rich, in a party primary as they both run for governor.
“I’m not even thinking about that right now, to be honest with you,” Crist told reporters Tuesday evening outside a Greenspoon Marder law firm fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale.
“I am focused on doing everything I can to help the people of Florida,” he said. “And this is not really a race about candidates. This is a race about the people of our state.”
Reached by phone, Rich — a longtime Democrat and former party leader in the state Senate from Weston — took issue with Crist’s stance.
“I’m an issues person,” Rich said. “I’m a policy person. “To me, to have a dialogue and a debate back-and-forth about the issues is probably the most important thing that you can do to educate voters about where the candidates stand.”
As a one-time Republican governor who became an independent in 2010, Crist switched his party registration to Democrat after helping President Barack Obama win reelection in 2012.
Most polls indicate Crist would soundly defeat Rich in the Aug. 26 Democratic primary.
Polls also show Crist edging Gov. Rick Scott by a few percentage points in a general-election matchup. Those surveys also indicate Scott would beat Rich. Most polls do not include Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie.
As a former governor who had a centrist governing record, Crist has sky-high name recognition and an apparent store of some residual goodwill with voters — especially when compared to Scott, who has struggled with relatively low approval ratings since almost as soon as he took office in 2011.
But Scott has been feverishly raising money, a must to pay for expensive TV commercials in a state with 10 media markets.
Scott has about $24.6 million in his political committee’s bank and has a goal of spending as much as $100 million on the campaign through his gubernatorial campaign, his political committee and the Republican Party of Florida. Independently wealthy, Scott spent $75.1 million of his own money to get elected in 2010.
Crist has almost $4 million in the banks of his political committee and campaign account. Crist, who’s spending nearly all of his time fundraising, hopes to spend half as much as Scott by campaign’s end.
That means Crist and the state Democratic Party, which has a fraction of the fundraising prowess as the state GOP, would have to raise about $46 million through the Nov. 4 Election Day, which means he needs to pull in an average of $165,000 a day, including holidays and weekends.
Rich had only about $75,000 cash on hand in her campaign account as of the last reporting period that ended Dec. 31.
An announced candidate since early 2012, Rich has struggled to catch fire. She’s little-known, doesn’t have a large staff and doesn’t always communicate campaign events or press statements with the news media.
Broward College and Broward Days, a legislative advocacy group, had reached out to Rich and Crist to invite them to debate in the state’s bluest county. Rich told organizers she’d be open to it; Crist’s camp wouldn’t commit to anything.
Asked whether he had plans to accept the Broward debate invitation, Crist said, “I don’t.”
When told that Broward has a large Democratic voting base, Crist’s answer was even shorter when it came to the idea of debating Rich in the county: “No.”
Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo contributed to this report.