As the Florida gubernatorial debate broadcast live on CNN, students, faculty and local residents who gathered at a debate watch party in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom on Monday night witnessed mudslinging in the second heated debate on campus in as many days.
Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott are locked in a narrow race with one week remaining until Election Day on Nov. 2, and their showdown followed the Florida U.S. Senate debate held on campus Sunday morning.
A recent poll of 801 registered voters conducted by the St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald and Bay News 9 was released Saturday and shows that Scott leads Sink 44 percent to 41 percent.
When Susan MacManus, watch party master of cermonies and USF political science professor, asked the audience who won the debate, the room was split much like the poll numbers.
Derek Hayward, a senior triple majoring in criminology, political science and history, said he thought Scott won.
“I felt he won because he was more calm. Alex Sink seemed more on the offensive,” he said. “It was more of his composure. At least that’s how I was viewing it.”
Hayward, who has already voted for Scott, said he supports him for his stance on drug testing.
“I work with juvenile offenders, and I think drugs are a big problem. One of his seven steps is to drug test welfare recipients,” he said. “I know it sounds rough and harsh.”
Karim Al-Turk, a sophomore majoring in biology, said she thought Sink was a more effective debater.
“She seemed to answer the questions more,” he said. “I heard more positives from her than I did from (Scott) about what they will do, rather than what they have done.”
In a campaign filled with negative ads about each candidate – such as those that criticize Medicare fraud committed by Columbia/HCA during Scott’s time as CEO of the health company and attack Sink as the individual responsible for bad investments in the state as its chief financial officer – the debate appeared to be an extension of the critical rhetoric, Hayward said.
“It has been shown that negative ads don’t reduce voting,” he said. “It was fun to watch a train wreck, unfortunately. It was entertaining.”
However, Al-Turk said the negative attacks were unnecessary.
“Instead of having them sit there and fight like little children,” he said. “We could have had a more effective debate where we are actually hearing what we want to hear, and not just watching them fight with one another.”
Al-Turk also said he thought each candidate should have discussed their stance on education.
“I think not talking about the education system was very detrimental,” he said.
William Black, an assistant education professor, said there were many educational topics that could have been discussed.
“If you look at the major issues, they didn’t talk about any of them … they were mostly attacking each other,” he said.
Peter Silverman, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, said the debate showed that bipartisanship is not evident in the candidates’ campaigns.
“What we saw tonight was their true characters,” he said. “It shows how Republicans and Democrats can’t really work together, that’s why I’m really discouraged with the state of politics right now.”
– Additional reporting by Sarah Peacock