TALLAHASSEE — In a campaign season of wall-to-wall negative commercials, Democrat Alex Sink's worst television moment came during a commercial break.
Sink was holding her own against Republican Rick Scott at the nationally televised CNN/St. Petersburg Times debate Monday night when a makeup artist hurried up to her.
But rather than break out face powder, the woman handed Sink a Motorola Droid smartphone that bore a message from a top Sink campaign advisor.
It was a debate talking point -- and therefore a violation of the rules for the gubernatorial debate.
As soon as the debate resumed, Scott made political hay of the rule-breaking. Sink soon jettisoned the senior advisor -- Coral Gables-based insurance lobbyist Brian May -- from her campaign. And the news of the flap quickly eclipsed the substance of the debate on blogs and cable news stations.
Sink said she wasn't to blame and insisted she didn't discuss the message before it was shown to her by the makeup artist.
"She 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 -- I couldn't tell, really, what it was,'' Sink said Tuesday morning when questioned by a Herald/Times reporter.
But CNN chief national correspondent and anchor John King, a debate co-host, said Tuesday that CNN reviewed an audio clip that clearly reveals that the makeup artist alerted Sink about the message.
"We listened very closely to the audio,'' King said. "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 a cellphone. . . . 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.''
Scott's campaign reveled in the contradiction and Sink's stumble, saying in a press release that the Democrat "cheated before she lied.''
Earlier Tuesday, Scott's campaign produced a radio ad mocking Sink over the Droid flap and noting that, as state chief financial officer, she oversees some insurance issues that could affect lobbyists such as May.
Sink appeared on MSNBC late Tuesday to explain that she wasn't to blame for the cheating flap -- not the message a candidate wants to convey in the final week of a too-close-to-call race. She was less talkative to reporters earlier when she would only take three questions on the topic before hastily leaving the Capitol after a Cabinet meeting.
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