Florida Governor Debate – Smith versus Davis – who won?

Got home late last night and watched the streaming video of the Florida Democratic Governor debate between Congress Jim Davis and State Senator Rod Smith. As I watched, I tracked the performance of each candidate on each issue discussed gave my estimate of who performed in each issue to help me better understand the stance. Prior to watching, Davis came into the debate with assumptions of being stiff and not as strong a debater as Smith, whereas Smith would be more in his element.

After watching, and knowing about the race, I would suggest that Smith won over Davis – even though Davis did perform better than expected. The first half was light – and Davis was able to position himself as a straight-talker and more animated than I expected. If I wanted to play a little Oliver Stone, I might suggest that Smith even stumbled and played behind to gain some sympathy for his “nervousness”. But once the two were able to ask questions of each other, Smith’s abilities began to overshadow Davis. And, whereas Davis might have tried to point out how Smith had the backing of big, bad US Sugar – it came off sounding weak. Smith, who initially came off kind of “off” was able to pound on Davis two major points – you did not do your job AND you are a Washington outsider. Incredible as this seems, Davis, who originally used the concept of not being a Tallahassee insider to point out his strength, now found Smith using it to demonstrate how out of touch he was with the issues in State. His technique of discussing his family and being a parent was a nice tactic, Smith’s use of “there’s another Washington answer” during the debate was a deft touch to keep Davis positioned outside the Florida mainstream during the debate.

Style points go to Davis in the debate for performing better than I expected. And Smith, in the debate, still had his almost Baptist minister-like energy, but by the end of the debate, I had begun to get tired of the fast delivery and a sense of over-confidence. His last line in the closing somewhat unnerved me – regarding how Davis had not earned the right to be Governor and (in contrast), he had.

Who will be the best person for the job? I would say that Davis makes me feel that we will be the thoughtful Governor, but Smith has a record of deomnstrating how to handle the issues between working as a minority party with the majority working against him. He knows the system and more than likely would be able to work it much more effectively than Davis, who has been outside the social structure that is Tallahassee. While Smith has the backing of US Sugar (which I have seen first-hand the ability of their negative campaigns), he came across much stronger and more with a strong understanding of the issues and mechanations of Florida politics. Advantage goes to Smith, though I wonder what people in South Florida will say in the coming days.

UPDATE: Fla Politics has a great run down of all of the articles out today on the debate.

What follows are my notes from the debate – and my conclusions on who won the points on each of the issues raised.

Quick thoughts and notes:

  • Opening – TIE – both made mistakes on the opening, neither were strong
  • Fixing schools and keeping teachers – DAVIS who answered the question, SMITH only discussed the problems
  • Same question – DAVIS again, answered the question
  • Death penalty – TIE since Davis supports the death penalty, Smith speaks with authority but has not answered the question straightforward like Davis
  • Email question: Preserving Florida history – DAVIS since he answered the question directly, connected on the heart issue. Smith good story-telling, focused on the developer control, Davis talks of his family history, historical boards, economic development
  • Everglades cleanup/US Sugar – DAVIS – Davis worked on federal tax dollars for the Everglades, smacks Smith regarding Everglades, $1M to Smith campaign, back to Everglades cleanup. Smith points out delay did not happen, FL did the money expenditure, states $1M not to him, to 527, states not connected to US Sugar and polluters will pay
  • Insurance – SMITH on the issue, DAVIS on connecting: Smith states get out of Citizens Insurance, sales receipts from previous years, reinsurers, independent board – smacks Davis regarding rates, Davis will raise the money. Davis states loophole was made to help people in problems, policy holder advocate general fight back now – Davis responding much better
  • “Lax” gun laws – SMITH on the issue, DAVIS on connecting: Davis supports some restrictions on some guns, connecting with the cause even though not understanding well. Smith connects with story on past experiences – early prevention and intervention.
  • DAVIS to SMITH: You fought against a third party mailer before, what about now? – DAVIS squeaks by barely – Smith says “I did not have anything to do with this” – and he believes that nothing should be a personal attack or untruthful. From his light eval, the content was not a personal attack – not going to work when you should have, not being on the job when supposed to. This is a discussion on trade issues. It is not untruthful. Davis reiterates US Sugar has control over you.
  • Turning pointSMITH to DAVIS: You missed more work than anyone else – why did you allow politics to get in the way of your attendance? – SMITH – Davis says he had a 93% attendance now, 97% before the campaign. He has always been focused on Floridians – continued to fight against oil drilling, against Tom Delay, against Bush. Smith responses “Washington language” – politics ahead of your job.
  • DAVIS to SMITH: Phone rates (gets a laugh) – Smith first supports and then repeals – was it a bad bill? – SMITH – Smith states that it is revenue neutral – you did not read the bill. Important thing to remember – always do best when we had competition. Be sure to read the bill when you get the work. Davis slams regarding US Sugar and how the phone bill was against us.
  • SMITH to DAVIS: Class size at reducing class size and attracting new teachers – where were you? – SMITH – Davis supports reduced class size here. Davis responds with his past – he is a parent. Smith says you supported the record – painting Davis as Washington outsider.
  • DAVIS to SMITH: Where were you on greenbelt bill abuses? – SMITH – Smith slams Davis – “check the record”. I brought a bill to committee.. Davis states “you did not do your job” – a call to committee does not equal action.
  • SMITH to DAVIS: compensation for claims act – SMITH – Davis states that he listened to the evidence, but the evidence he looked for was not there. Rather than focus on the popular position, he focused on what is right, not popular. Smith says this is “Washington talk” – accuses Davis of not making a stand when he could.
  • Electronic voting machines – TIE – Davis discusses loss of confidence, “I will make sure we restore the trust in the power of your vote – do not let these folks make you think your vote does not count.” We shoudl have a paper trail, we should restore rights to felons who have paid their dues. Smith focuses on his recent bill, and an amendment he attempted to pass years ago. Smith feels the issue of restoration of felons rights must happen as well.
  • Higher Education – DAVIS – Smith speaks incredibly fast – will discuss resources, excellence. Davis recomments on Graham. Wants to reinvest in our students – not just adequate class size. Too much in terms of politics. Abolished the Board of Regents. Will change the business model in the state. $300M for 300 jobs.
  • Wet foot/dry foot: do you agree? – TIE – Davis says the policy does not work, wants a fair issue. Wants a comprehensive immigration policy. Immigration reform – fair path to citizenship. Smith states does not work for FL – need to focus on the homeland security. Need to work toward guest status – need to focus on reality.
  • How will you work with the Republican majority? – SMITH – Smith finds working with Reps easy. Been very successful in a Rep majority. States the intangibles tax reinstatement – Reps will be willing to work to this effort. Davis responds with an accusation of the falsehood of intangibles tax. Plan on raising teacher salaries – remove the rewards. Unite the state – the loophole is bad for business. Stand up for consumers. (Davis does not say how he will work with the Reps).
  • Closing statement – Davis pounds on the negatives on Smith – tries to tie Smith to the “bad” legislature (never says Republicans). Who’s going to be on our side. Judge his record – honored to serve as next governor. Smith agrees on effectiveness – connects on positives for himself and connected. Pounds on Davis’ as a Washington outsider, misses , Davis’ loophole – pounds on Congress again in terms of the Everglades. About effectiveness – Davis has not earned the right for a promotion. He says he has earned his chance to be the next Governor.

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