TALLAHASSEE -- The fan. It's Charlie Crist's security blanket.
The fan that created a nationwide uproar in Wednesday's TV debate is never far from Crist.
The man with the tan doesn't want people to see him sweating under the glare of hot TV lights. So Crist keeps a portable fan handy whenever he knows he's going to be on camera.
He brought one to his first debate in the 2006 election for governor with Republican rival Tom Gallagher at a steamy hall in Poinciana in Polk County. When Gallagher threatened to walk out, organizers raced to provide him with a fan.
At the Capitol, he kept one under the podium in the Capitol, just out of camera range.
At his 2007 conference on global warming in Miami, the heat and the lights from the 200 media present was so intense that Crist had his team buy two very large fans, just for the occasion.
Whenever Crist is at a podium facing hot television lights, he has a fan. He even has a preferred brand, the Vornado. It "actually bends and twists air to produce true whole-room air circulation using Vortex Action, " according to the product's official website.
And he insisted on one under the lectern for his debate with Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday night at Bailey Hall at Broward College in Davie.
Crist’s fan fancy is something his rivals know well. In the 2010 U.S. Senate debate, the audience could see and even hear the whirr of the portable fan. Rubio’s staff joked they should protest, to make him mad. Someone even set up a Twitter account: @CCristfan.
Crist adviser Dan Gelber said Scott threatened to boycott last Friday's Telemundo debate in Miramar unless Crist used a small, five-inch portable fan in the Miramar studio. He said the network's debate producer, Maria Barrios, agreed to the request.
The debate rules typically prohibit the use of "electronic devices" on stage to prohibit one candidate from gaining a tactical advantage through the use of a hand-held device like an iPhone.
"They're very small, very discreet. Nobody sees them," Gelber said. "Anyone who gets hot under the lights knows it's uncomfortable."
Gelber said he expected no problems as both campaigns conducted a routine walk-through of the Bailey Hall stage on Tuesday, and the fan was in place, tucked inside Crist's lectern, with an extension cord nearby.
"The Scott people went crazy," Gelber recalled, referring to Scott's debate coach, Brett O'Donnell. "They got their just desserts because they were jerks."
It became a flashback to 2010, when the most memorable moment of the debate between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott came when a Sink aide surprised her at the break with a cell phone text message from an aide. Scott called her for breaking the rules. It was the story for the next three days and her campaign never recovered.
Scott's campaign disputed what caused a delay of about seven minutes in the start of Wednesday's debate.
"So, let's get one thing clear: Rick Scott never refused to take the stage and debate," Scott's campaign manager, Melissa Sellers, wrote in an email to supporters. "In fact, our campaign was not notified Charlie had even taken the stage because the last we heard, Crist was in an 'emergency meeting' with debate organizers pleading for his precious fan."
For several awkward minutes, TV viewers saw Crist standing on stage and an empty lectern where Scott was supposed to be, as moderator Ellior Rodriguez of WFOR described "an extremely peculiar situation right now."
The fan flap became a social media punchline with names: fangate, fanghazi, fanbola. It became the talk of morning cable TV shows. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," viewers saw the video, and panelist Mike Barnicle asked: "What is wrong with these people? The governor of Florida demanding no fan?"
Florida voters probably haven't heard the last of the fan.
Crist and Scott will debate once more, at the Jacksonville studios of WJXT next Tuesday, in a debate co-hosted by CNN.
The studio lights will be hot and bright. And Crist wants a fan there, too.
Miami Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report
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