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Politics

Nelson, Mack still working out debate details

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 12:54 PM
TAMPA -

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and his challenger for re-election, Rep. Connie Mack IV, will have at least one and possibly two televised debates before Election Day.

The Mack campaign says he's happy to meet Nelson in a debate, and says it has accepted six debate invitations.

But one potential debate was modified, and may or may not happen, because Mack objected to sponsorship by a newspaper he contends has been biased against him in its coverage.

Nelson, the Democratic incumbent, is running for his third term against Mack, a four-term House Republican from Fort Myers.

They'll participate in a debate to be broadcast live statewide at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 from the campus of Nova Southeastern University, sponsored by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association.

It will be moderated by Michael Williams, anchor for West Palm Beach NBC affiliate WPTV, with a panel of reporters questioning the candidates. It will be carried in the Tampa area by WFTS, Channel 28.

Another debate is still possible Oct. 30, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley and broadcast live locally at 8 p.m. on the Bay News 9 cable news station and WTVT, Channel 13.

That debate initially was co-sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, and was to include a moderator from the newspaper.

After initially agreeing to it, however, Mack changed his mind because of what he called biased coverage of his campaign by the newspaper. With the Times no longer sponsoring, Mack says he's willing to participate subject to final details being decided.

Nelson backers, however, note that the date for the event is only a few days before the Nov. 6 election, after many Florida voters will already have cast ballots in absentee and early voting.

Nelson spokesman Paul Kincaid suggested that Mack was reluctant to debate Nelson, noting that Mack declined to debate opponents during the Republican primary campaign.

"We accepted two debates, he accepted two debates. That's two debates more than Mr. Mack showed up for in his primary," Kincaid said.

But Mack says he has agreed to six debate proposals, including a Fox News Sunday meeting between the two that would have been aired Sept. 9 that Nelson didn't accept.

"We're not the ones hedging here," said Mack spokesman David James.

One of those proposed debates would be Oct. 23 in Gainesville, sponsored by the University of Florida student speaker's bureau and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.

It would be broadcast on Florida public broadcasting stations, but Mack has objected, saying in a response to Graham, "While we appreciate public broadcasting, it is widely known that it's audience is extremely limited."

He said he would participate if the Graham center can arrange for commercial broadcast and cable stations to carry the debate.


wmarch@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7761

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