A U.S. Senate race debate between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and three-term incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has been postponed, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis is drawing bipartisan criticism for refusing to remove negative ads about Democrat opponent Andrew Gillum as the Tallahassee mayor was facing a pending crisis, and the Democratic Party has been rebuffed in its attempt to extend voter registration deadlines to Oct. 16.
So ended Day One in the wake of Hurricane Michael, which crashed across the Florida Panhandle and into Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.
Traditionally, Florida politicians have called campaign cease-fires in response to an emergency, such as a hurricane – the first to occur during a gubernatorial campaign in nearly 60 years – and Scott cited that standard in announcing Thursday he will withdraw from an Oct. 16 CNN debate with Nelson to focus on coordinating the state’s response to Hurricane Michael.
“Ensuring Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend communities can rebuild and return to their homes and jobs is top priority. We are sure Sen. Nelson agrees,” Scott’s Campaign Manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman stated in a press advisory. “So, today, the ‘Scott For Florida’ campaign has asked CNN to postpone the debate between Gov. Scott and Sen. Nelson for two weeks.”
CNN has agreed to reschedule the debate, although the exact date is uncertain. As of Thursday evening, there had not been an official response from the Nelson camp.
However, Nelson had accused Scott of trying to duck out of the debate even before the storm was a blip on the radar and has criticized the governor for denying him access to the state’s Emergency Operations Center press room for the airtime optics of speaking to reporters about the storm.
DeSantis, meanwhile, was being criticized for not only continuing to run negative campaign ads targeting Gillum, but actually launching a new one Tuesday in North Florida TV markets attacking the Tallahassee mayor over an ongoing FBI investigation in the city.
“While most campaigns have taken negative ads off in the storm zone, @RonDeSantisFL launched a new ad last night hitting @AndrewGillum on his ties to an FBI probe,” CNN’s Ryan Nobles tweeted Tuesday.
DeSantis, who said he would tone down “rah rah rallies” while the storm was nearing and in its immediate aftermath, has been using campaign stops to collect food, water and other supplies needed for relief.
Nevertheless, after telling reporters in Jacksonville that it was “not the appropriate time” to talk about the campaign Tuesday and Wednesday, DeSantis appeared on Fox News Wednesday night to claim Gillum was corrupt and soft on crime.
On Thursday, Gillum campaign counsel Glenn Burhans, Jr. called on television stations running the “demonstrably false” campaign ad to “cease and desist” running them.
The Republican Party of Florida announced Thursday it would “take the ads down in the affected areas.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, during a Wednesday telephone appearance on the “Morning Joe” show on MSNBC, expressed distaste for DeSantis’s ads.
“My only hope is that in the midst of a campaign season, people need to put their arms down and stop the advertising, stop the campaigning, at least in these affected areas, and help their fellow man,” Bush said.
Also Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle rejected a request from the Florida Democratic Party to force the state to extend a voter-registration deadline because of Hurricane Michael to Oct. 16, a week later than Tuesday’s deadline.
The Democrat Party’s request is one of two lawsuits that were filed after state Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a directive authorizing county elections supervisors whose offices were closed Tuesday to accept paper registration applications on the day that their offices reopen, but no later than that.
In his decision, Hinkle wrote “there is no justification” for a statewide week-long extension of the deadline.
“Some parts of the state were affected little by the hurricane. Extending the deadline in those parts of the state would not level the playing field or provide a remedy for the hurricane’s effects,” he wrote. “Large numbers of voters register shortly before the deadline, but that happens routinely, with or without a hurricane.”
Hinkle revised Detzner’s directive to ensure it is “considered mandatory,” not optional, for counties where elections offices were closed Tuesday to extend the deadline to the first “full” business day offices are open.