Tonight, Gov. Rick Scott and ex-Gov. Charlie Crist will take a break from sliming each other in TV ads to share a stage at Broward College, where instead they'll slime each other in a statewide televised debate. Voters will continue reviling both men, whose unfavorable ratings have each trended toward an unseemly 50 percent.
Those looking for another option, however, won't find their most likely choice on stage. Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, whose polling has steadily risen all summer, has been barred from the debate and last night a federal judge denied his emergency motion to get in.
Wyllie had sued to get access to the debate, which is being organized by the Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida, arguing that keeping him off the stage was a violation of his First Amendment rights at a publicly funded local college.
Wyllie also said the organizers had changed the rules to keep him out; originally, they'd told his campaign that only candidates polling at least 12 percent would be eligible, but when he reached that threshold, they changed their bar to 15 percent.
But in a six-page opinion, Judge James I. Cohn struck down those complaints. Cohn found that the organizers had in fact included the 15 percent threshold in materials for the debate issued in 2013.
And Cohn also ruled that the debate is technically a "non-public forum," meaning the organizers have every right to decide which candidates are allowed to speak.
"In this case, no evidence shows the defendants are excluding Wyllie based on the content of his political message," Cohn writes.
Wyllie responded last night with an elaborate theory about the Florida Press Association's ties to Democratic campaigns, pointing to a for-profit subsidiary of the FPA that does business with Democratic candidates.
"It is clear to me now that ... the debate criteria (was set) specifically to exclude me," Wyllie writes. "(It was) not based on public interest -- it was based on personal profit motive."
Of course, the truth is that third-party candidates rarely get a fair shake at debates in our two-party system unless they have serious, Ross Perot-esque capital to buy their way in.
Wyllie has pennies to spend compared to the millions Scott and Crist are blasting at each other and the truth is, no matter how hated the two politicos are, he can't really compete without the cash. Democracy! Ain't it wonderful.
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Here's Cohn's full judgment: