Running neck-and-neck in the polls, each echoed their TV attack ads in trying to convince viewers of the nationally televised forum that the other is untrustworthy and unfit to be Florida's chief executive. But neither scored a decisive victory in the loosely formatted hour-long bout, moderated by CNN's John King and St. Petersburg Times political reporter Adam Smith.
No new ground was broken, but Democrat Sink was more aggressive, accusing the political newcomer of lying about her and hammering him for his leadership of Columbia/HCA, a hospital conglomerate that paid a record $1.7 billion in fine to settle federal charges of Medicaid and Medicare fraud. Scott, the company CEO at the time, says he wasn't aware of any wrongdoing.
"He's just somebody that we can't trust because he doesn't know how to follow the rules," Sink said.
Scott said Sink would have to raise taxes to make her economic plan work, which she flatly denied.
"She's going to increase spending," Scott said. "That's Obama math."
Scott also accused Sink of refusing to take responsibility for employees at her former bank hoodwinking seniors into risky investments. The parent company of NationsBank paid a $6.7 million fine for the practice, but Sink said she had nothing to do with it.
When Sink chuckled while he was talking, Scott snapped at her: "You think it's funny for these seniors? Your bank was sued and you paid fines. You want to talk about fraud?"
Sink shot back: "You can't lecture me about fraud."
Scott fought back against Sink's charges about his time at Columbia/HCA, saying he was proud of building a company that employed thousands and lowered health care costs.
"He says how proud he is of the company he built," Sink said. "He didn't build a company, he was a corporate raider and he left as disgraced chief executive officer."
Both criticized the administration of Gov. Charlie Crist for not doing enough to create new jobs during the past four years. Crist, once a Republican, is now running for the U.S. Senate as an independent.
Neither candidate apparently knew the state's minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour. When asked directly, Scott said it was $7.55. Sink, asked if that was correct, agreed.
Seth McKee, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, said neither candidate looked comfortable or polished in front of the cameras. Scott, he said, was "extremely evasive," and Sink "didn't really deliver" when attempting to explain her economic plan.
"They don't like each other," McKee said. "It's tough to say that anyone won."
Riding an antiestablishment wave, Scott jumped into the governor's race in April and spent around $50 million of his own money to beat Attorney General Bill McCollum in the GOP primary. He says that as a proven businessman he is best-suited to create private sector jobs. He proposes deep tax cuts and dramatic downsizing of the budget to help get the state's economy back on its feet.
Sink, 62, spent 26 years in the banking business, the last seven as Florida president of NationsBank, which became Bank of America. She was elected Florida's chief financial officer in 2006 in her first ever election. She is the lone Democrat in the state Cabinet.
The debate was sponsored by CNN, the University of South Florida and the St. Petersburg Times.