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Plans underway for statewide debate in next governor's race

Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association announced plans Tuesday to again jointly produce a live one-hour statewide debate in the 2014 race for governor. They hope to again secure commitments from network affiliate TV stations in all 11 Florida markets to carry the forum to viewers and voters statewide.

"It's vitally important that this election be an informed one, and that means that the voters must have the opportunity to compare the candidates side by side," said Leadership Florida President Wendy Abberger. She was joined at a press conference in Tallahassee with Broward College President David Armstrong, chairman of Leadership Florida, and Dean Ridings of the Florida Press Association, a trade group representing newspapers.

"We are the most credible debate producing team in Florida's history," Abberger said. "We want potential candidates to know that we're serious about doing this."

No commitments from candidates are in hand, but organizers pointed out that candidates have always committed to participate in the past. To be included in the debate, candidates must have at least 15 percent support, outside the margin of error, in a statewide poll by Mason Dixon  Polling & Research.

The two groups began producing statewide debates in 2004. Their last gubernatorial debate, in 2010, produced a tense face-off between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink. In 2006, third-party candidate Max Linn of St. Petersburg filed a last-minute lawsuit seeking to be included in a Charlie Crist-Jim Davis debate, but an appeals court blocked his participation.

The debate will likely be at 7 p.m. Eastern time and will be held in mid-October, with the date and location to be announced much later. For the last three cycles, the venue has been Nova Southeastern University in Davie, west of Fort Lauderdale. Past debates have been live-streamed on the debate website, www.beforeyouvote.org, and carried on tape delay on C-SPAN.

-- Steve Bousquet

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