Irene Secada sat in the back of the campaign headquarters doing mental math. About 80 people were crammed and sweating inside of a Weston shopping mall suite to see Nan Rich, the 72-year-old former state senator and lifelong Democrat, open her gubernatorial campaign headquarters. Although the majority of the Nan fans were pushing 80, Secada, a political consultant with sharp features and cropped black hair, says that's actually a good thing. These are the people who vote, after all. Although a less savvy observer might see octogenarians double-dipping popcorn chicken into a vat of honey mustard, Secada sees the beginnings of a great grassroots campaign.
"I came here to see how Nan's doing, and this is very much a race," she says. "People are saying it's a done deal, and I don't think it's a done deal at all."
Whether or not it's a race, though, depends a lot on whether Charlie Crist is open for a debate -- something he's refused thus far. Although Rich is fairly well-known in South Florida for championing women's and children's causes, her reputation doesn't extend far north. Florida Democrats might not want to vote for Crist, who has been in the party for about a year and a half and whose views are slippery at best. They also might not consider someone who isn't pro-choice and who has greatly expanded school vouchers -- not exactly party hallmarks -- to be their first choice.
A debate would at least let these voters know there are other options, which is, ahem, the aim of democracy. Crist, a former Republican governor and failed Independent candidate for U.S. Senate and currently professed Dem, is afraid to get quizzed, though. Rich says that newbie Crist could get decimated if he went head-to-head with a seasoned party veteran. Already being the clear frontrunner, he has a lot to lose and little to gain from a debate.
"I'm kind of considered a little bit of a policy wonk, and I pride myself on the fact that I study hard and know the issues," she says, pointing out that political expediency and shadiness are often directly correlated. "But especially when someone's new to the Democratic Party, I think it's important for the voters to be educated. We've had debates for a very long time in the Democratic Party for a gubernatorial race. It's not following precedent. It's not democratic."
And while it's kind of sad that Crist won't debate his main opponent in the primary, it's also kind of sad that people aren't demanding he do so. It's also more than disappointing that with the exception of about five college Dems who eventually showed up -- the majority of the people who will vote for our only pro-choice candidate are people too old to have sex anyway. It's hard to imagine what it must feel like to dedicate yourself to a party that turns around and gives nominations to a Johnny-come-lately with an orange spray tan.
If Crist would at least debate Rich, he would win respect within the party. If he doesn't and wins, the whole election is sort of a sham.
Although Rich's supporters are old, they are pretty tough. It's hot enough inside the cramped headquarters to cause heatstroke, but nobody leaves until the candidate takes the podium.
"I've made stops all around this state, and something is clear -- everyone wants Rick Scott to be a one-term governor," she says as the crowd starts chanting her name. "The question is who is going to replace him. The people are entitled to a televised debate."