MIRAMAR, FL (WTXL) -- Republican Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist clashed over their records as governor and traded sometimes-personal barbs Friday in the first of three debates in a close race for the state's highest office.
Scott repeatedly took shots at Crist's time as governor, saying the former Republican was all talk and no action. Crist, who is running this year as a Democrat, portrayed Scott as an uncaring plutocrat unresponsive to middle-class needs.
The debate, held at the South Florida television studios of Telemundo 51, was to be aired on three Spanish-language stations at 7 p.m. ET Friday. An English-language version will be available at nbcmiami.com after the broadcast.
The candidates exchanged views on issues, from gay marriage to medical marijuana to whether the state should expand Medicaid to cover more Floridians. But the debate was notable as the first face-to-face clash between two governors who have waged an increasingly nasty race for the office.
Scott mocked the inaccurate "Charlie Facts" that he said Crist --- whom Scott consistently addressed by his first name --- was using. And he pounded away at what Scott characterized as a lack of action by Crist as governor.
"He will always talk about what he's going to do, but nothing will happen," Scott said.
Crist knocked Scott, a wealthy former health-care executive, as someone who didn't fight for lower- and middle-income Floridians, saying some increases in the cost of living should be known as "Rick Taxes." Crist also upbraided Scott for opposing an increase in the minimum wage.
"It seems to me that Gov. Scott may be out of touch. ... For people who maybe have a private jet, like the governor has, or has a mansion on the waterfront, things seem OK. I understand that, and that's great. But it's not great for everybody in Florida," Crist said.
"Charlie should be known as the zero-wage governor," Scott responded. "832,000 people had a job the day Charlie took office; they day he left office, they made zero wages."
In one his more withering attacks, Crist referred to a civil lawsuit in which Scott took a deposition while invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination 75 times.
"I've never pled the Fifth in my life," Crist said.
But Scott noted that during his last run for governor, he took responsibility for an overbilling scandal in the 1990s at Columbia/HCA, a health-care chain he led. The company ultimately paid $1.7 billion in fines because of Medicare fraud. Scott said Crist had not taken responsibility for the wrongdoing of some political associates or for increased unemployment in Florida in the aftermath of the financial crash during Crist's term.
"If I've done something wrong, I'll take responsibility," Scott said. "Charlie never will take responsibility for anything."
On gay marriage, both candidates said they would abide by whatever the courts decide. A federal judge has determined that the state's constitutional ban on same-sex unions violates the U.S. Constitution, but the state has launched an appeal.
Still, Scott --- who said he supports "traditional" marriage --- used the issue to hammer Crist, who now says he supports same-sex marriage. Scott criticized Crist for admitting in an interview with reporters for gay press outlets that he initially opposed those unions for political expediency.
"So my question is, what positions is Charlie taking today for political expediency?" Scott said. "Because if you would ever say that you do those things as governor, people should question everything you say."
Crist knocked Scott for not forcefully advocating expansion of the state's Medicaid program after saying he supported the idea as long as the federal government paid the full bill.
"Then he heard from the tea party base and kind of crawled back in and wouldn't talk about it anymore," Crist said. "He talks about people who talk about things and don't do anything. That's just what he's done, precisely, on this issue."
Scott said he opposes a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would legalize medical marijuana because substance abuse "scares the living daylights out of me." Crist said he backs the measure but opposes legalizing recreational marijuana.
The two also differed on the federally enforced embargo of Cuba, with Scott saying it was an appropriate response to the island's communist dictatorship but Crist arguing that it hadn't worked to change the nation's political system.
Speaking with reporters after the debate, Crist said one stark difference was illustrated during the back-and-forth.
"I think the biggest distinction is, you've got somebody who rattles off statistics versus somebody who really cares about people and what their challenges are and what they're dealing with, and takes the time to listen to them, as we've done on this kitchen table tour the past few weeks," Crist said, referring to a series of campaign appearances. "The real difference is, if you want somebody with a heart."
Surrogates for Scott repeated the talk-versus-action theme from the debate. And when pressed about the focus on each governor's term as opposed to a vision for the next four years, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said Scott had released more substance over the course of the campaign.
"We've spent the last four months talking about what we're going to do for the next four years. ... I'd argue that one of our plans for just one issue is probably longer and more in-depth than all of Charlie's rhetoric, put together, that he's proposed," Lopez-Cantera said.