By MARGIE MENZEL
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
With Florida's gubernatorial debates getting underway, Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie on Thursday filed a lawsuit to try to get included in a televised debate next week in Broward County.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist, are scheduled to debate three times before the Nov. 4 election, with the first taking place Friday at the South Florida studios of Telemundo.
Wyllie is suing over the second debate, produced by the Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida and slated to be held Wednesday at Broward College. He and seven other candidates didn't make the cut because their poll numbers among likely voters weren't high enough to meet criteria set by the debate producers.
Now Wyllie is suing the Florida Press Association, Leadership Florida and Broward College, arguing that it is in the public interest for him to be included.
"The Adrian Wyllie campaign is 'serious' in every sense of the word, and is entitled to participate fully in the electoral process, on an equal footing with the Republican and Democrat candidates for governor," the complaint said.
When the press association and Leadership Florida first announced their 2014 debate plans last year, they noted in a press release that to be included, a candidate must have the support of at least 15 percent of likely voters, as determined by a poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. That 15 percent would include the benefit of a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Mason-Dixon conducted a poll last month that showed Scott with 43 percent, Crist with 41 percent and Wyllie with 4 percent.
But Wyllie's complaint argues that he is now reaching double digits in some other polls. Wyllie said Thursday the bar "used to be set as low as 7 percent --- and it seems to be a moving target, based upon (being) just out of the reach of any third-party candidate."
But Florida Press Association President and CEO Dean Ridings said the qualifying data were known well in advance. (Disclosure: The News Service of Florida is an associate member of the press group.)
"We have maintained the same criteria since 2010," Ridings said. "We've not changed it, and it would not be fair to the other seven candidates who've qualified to run for governor if we were to change our criteria in midstream."
Wyllie also was excluded from the first and third debates. The first will be taped Friday morning at the Telemundo studios in Miramar and then broadcast at 7 p.m. According to Wyllie's Facebook page, he will lead a rally in front of the studios starting at 9 a.m., two hours before the taping.
The third debate between Scott and Crist will be held Oct. 21 in Jacksonville.
With Scott and Crist in a tight race, Wyllie could play a role in determining the outcome of the election if he can draw enough support. A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed Wyllie getting 8 percent of the vote.
"The big question is, will those who tell us today that they're going to vote for Mr. Wyllie actually vote for Mr. Wyllie? And if they don't vote for Mr. Wyllie, will they stay at home, or will they vote for one of the two major party candidates? That's the $64,000 question," Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said at the time.