WFTV Senate debate: busy day, successful results

Josh Benson and Vanessa WelchThis place was jammed on Wednesday. WFTV hosted a debate for the Florida Senate race between Congressman Kendrick Meek (D), Governor Charlie Crist (I) and Marco Rubio (R). Each candidate held little back as they volleyed shots back and forth and teamed up on poll-leader Rubio. It’s bound to be a riveting race.

ABC’s Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos was lead moderator for the event. He was strolling through the station with his entourage preparing for the debate in locked-down Studio A. Our conference room was turned into Debate headquarters for the event planners and the Stephanopoulos regime. Each candidate occupied a sales conference room in the building so they could plan their attack.

The newsroom was overcome by the wafting smell of chicken and vegetables as the catering was set up in the sports department. We all ate very well that night.

When the debate started, staff was slumped in chairs feverishly logging sound bites on their computers. Members of other news outlets were down the hall in the cafeteria watching the debate on a big screen enjoying hamburgers from a local restaurant.

The debate kicked off at 7:00pm sharp – immediately candidates were hit with questions on the economy, jobs, taxes, and the war on terror. The jabs ensued. The political showdown began.

Some good quotes of the night:

“You haven’t been drinking the Kool-Aid, my friend, you’ve been drinking too much tea and it’s just wrong,” Crist told Rubio.

“Charlie Crist stands on a wet paper box,” Meek said. “You don’t know where he is.”

“If you like Obamacare, if you like the stimulus plan, you can vote for Charlie Crist or Kendrick Meek. I’m probably not your candidate,” Rubio said.

After the debate, Congressman Meek met reporters in our hallway for a 20 minute interview. Marco Rubio sent a spokesperson to speak with the reporters briefly and Gov. Crist exited stage left, not talking with reporters.

Josh Benson and Kendrick Meek

The staff finished the night by polishing off clean stories for the 10 and 11pm newscasts, along with the cookies left in plastic bags from the catering. The ratings came back very well – many people tuned in to watch the candidates with their jabs – only 27 days before the election. It was successful night to say the least, and a promise to make this year’s Senate race far from a dull one.

(A special thanks to Danny Criswell of WFTV for the great photos.)

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