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In Broward home, Dems reject Rich's call to debate Crist

Last night the management committee of the Broward Democratic Executive Committee rejected a motion to encourage a debate between Nan Rich and Charlie Crist for governor.

The purpose of the resolution was to compel the Florida Democratic Party to call for a statewide debate between two major candidates -- understood to mean Rich and Crist.

That was a purely symbolic resolution -- the state party isn’t sitting around waiting for local DECs to dictate whether it encourages a debate or not. But it’s still a blow to Rich, a former longtime Democratic state senator from Weston, who appears not to have support of a group of her hometown activists. DECs in other counties including Palm Beach and Miami-Dade could follow with their own votes -- but such a vote is a bigger deal in Broward since that’s Rich’s county.

Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar wouldn’t reveal the breakdown of the vote that included about 18 people on the management committee which encompasses officers, area leaders and the heads of various caucuses including the black caucus.

“The philosophy was folks believed they should not be taking a position for one candidate or another in primary and in effect this is doing that, ....” Ceasar said. “As much as everybody in the room has respect for Nan -- tremendous respect for Nan -- many interpret this as being an indirect endorsement for one candidate.”

Maggie Davidson, a state committeewoman and Rich supporter from Pompano Beach, said she proposed the resolution. The vote “wasn’t really close,” she said.

“They were all pretty much in agreement that they didn’t want the DEC to be the one to put forth the effort for the debate,” she said. “They thought it should come from the candidates or the Florida Democratic Party. They felt it was going to be divisive.”

But Davidson said she believes in the principle of debates so that candidates have to answer to the voters.

“We have had primary debates in the past,” she said. “I don’t know why it’s any different -- why there should not be a debate.”

Davidson, a supporter of abortion rights, particularly wanted to hear Crist explain how he will handle abortion-related legislation if elected governor.

“He has been saying he is pro-life. I want to know he is pro-choice and will veto all the bad legislation that the Legislature has been putting forth the last four or five years. I haven’t heard that from him. The people of Florida, especially women, need to hear that from Charlie.”

Several Democratic activists -- including Ceasar -- and politicians were at Crist’s event Saturday to open his South Florida headquarters in Plantation. Broward has about 560,000 registered Democratic voters -- more than any other county in Florida. But the county has lagged behind in turnout in past non-presidential election years and only about 41 percent turned out to vote in 2010 when Democrat Alex Sink lost to Rick Scott. Sink was criticized for not spending enough time in Broward.

Crist has tried to boost his presence in Broward by opening his first field office there and renting an apartment on the beach. However he has not been as publicly visible as some Democrats would like in Broward -- the event Saturday was his first major public event here. Crist did not attend the Broward Democrats’ annual Unity Dinner last month where Rich spoke and he has not asked to speak to the DEC.