Republican Charlie Crist didn’t like it. Democrat Jim Davis didn’t like it. At times, it looked like moderator Chris Matthews didn’t like it, either. But thanks to a court decision, Reform Party candidate Max Linn participated in the second and final Florida gubernatorial debate held Oct. 30 in Tampa, and voters are better off as a result.

 

Linn is positioning himself as something different for Florida voters, and that contrast was apparent right from the beginning, when Linn’s lectern looked different than the other two. His inclusion was so last-minute that they had to scramble to find something for him to use. And he made the most of it when he was allowed to speak.

 

Of course, Crist and Davis tried to give Linn the cold shoulder. Crist wanted to attack Davis about his Congressional attendance record, as if dropping from 98 percent to 93 percent attendance is somehow going to swing an election. For his part, Davis highlighted his family as a way to differentiate himself from Crist’s bachelor status. I’m still not sure how Davis’ plan for printed vote receipts is supposed to work, but I’m absolutely positive that he’s married and has two sons. I don’t know why I’m supposed to care about that, but Davis mentioned it many times. I guess it’s good to know that his name will go on. Since Linn wasn’t the focus of such critical issues, there wasn’t much room for him in those discussions.

 

He also nixed the other two candidates’ attempts to out-promise each other regarding tax cuts. Davis proposes cutting local school property taxes by $1 billion; Crist is offering to double the Homestead Exemption. Linn was the wet blanket on the giveaway by stating that Florida can’t afford it. Fiscal responsibility is an unusual campaign strategy, but it contrasted well with the other candidates and their proposals.

 

Linn wasn’t perfect, of course. Moderator and MSNBC television personality Chris Matthews had to scold him for speaking to another candidate (Crist) directly. He wasn’t as polished as Jim Davis and not nearly as polite as Charlie Crist. There’s no doubt that Max Linn ruffled some feathers.

 

But for Florida voters, that’s a good thing. Maybe some feathers needed to be ruffled. Silence, politeness and predictability are great qualities to have at a fourth-grade assembly. But in a gubernatorial debate, it’s uninformative. And boring. If the point is to simply be well-rehearsed and stand up straight, let the candidates show a few of their expensive campaign ads and call it a night. Otherwise, an energetic exchange is good for a debate and good for Florida.

 

Linn looked like the uncomfortable third wheel at an exclusive fraternity party– and that’s exactly the message he’s trying to send Florida voters. The big parties seem to spend so much time fighting for the most lucrative slices of political pie that they forget who they’re supposed to be serving. Linn was the odd man out, which is just how many Floridians feel. Crist and Davis might have ignored Linn, but undecided voters might be somewhat more attentive on Nov. 7.

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