Florida Democrat Alex Sink broke the rules during her debate with gubernatorial rival Rick Scott, then compounded the gaffe by lying about it twice afterward.
The flap erupted at Monday night’s nationally televised debate that CNN and the St. Petersburg Times sponsored in Tallahassee.
During a commercial break, Sink’s makeup artist showed her a message on a smartphone, which violated rules the Sink and Scott campaigns had agreed upon beforehand.
Scott called over Mark Preston, CNN’s political editor, and complained. “So we can get notes?” he said. “We can have people that work for us come and give us messages?”
Preston said: “No.”
When the debate resumed, moderator John King of CNN opened with a question about Florida’s economy, but Scott said: “First, Alex, you say you always follow the rules. The rule was no one was supposed to give us messages during the break and your campaign did with an iPad, with an iPod.”
On Tuesday morning, Sink told a Miami Herald reporter she did not know who sent the message. She said the makeup artist “put this phone in my face and she said, ‘I don’t know who this is from,’ and I turned around and I looked and I said I couldn’t tell, really, what it was.”
But King said Tuesday that CNN reviewed an audio clip that clearly shows the makeup artist told Sink about the message.
“We listened very closely to the audio, and the makeup artist, when she approached Alex Sink, said, ‘I have a message from the staff.’ And at that point they looked, it was on her cell phone. It was two sentences. It was essentially advice after the last segment of the debate telling her if that question comes up again, remember this, and be more aggressive when Rick Scott questions you.”
CNN said the message read: “The attorney who won the Sykes suit said alex sink did nothing wrong. Tell not to let him keep talking about her.”
The message — sent by staffer Brian May, an insurance industry lobbyist — referred to Scott’s criticism of Sink for her role on the auditing board of Tampa-based call center Sykes Enterprises when investors sued it in 2000 for exaggerating its revenues, the Tampa Tribune reported.
Then Sink lied a second time when she told MSNBC’s “Hardball” host Chris Matthews on Tuesday that she “ignored” the message.
“I don’t know who this message is from,” Sink said. “I glanced at it. I didn’t understand even what it was. And I just ignored it.”
But the cameras continued to record during the commercial break, and King released tape on his blog clearly showing Sink spending seven or eight seconds reading the message.
Sink said in a statement that she “immediately removed” May from her campaign.
She said on “Hardball” that, after the debate, she told May, “Brian, that was against the rules, and I can't have someone who doesn't play by the rules in my campaign.”
Scott’s campaign said in a news release that Sink “cheated before she lied.”
And Scott told reporters on Tuesday morning: “She wants to attack me all the time, and then she doesn’t follow the rules. And that’s a pretty simple rule to follow. This is like everything she’s done — she never takes responsibility.”
The Scott campaign produced a radio ad mocking Sink over the cell phone flap and noting that, as Florida’s chief financial officer, she oversees some insurance issues that could affect insurance lobbyist May.
Scott spokesman Brian Burgess declared: “What happened last night is like a microcosm of her entire career. She thinks firing other people and blaming them is the same thing as taking responsibility.”
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