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CNN postpones Florida Senate debate as state reels from Hurricane Michael

CNN postpones Florida Senate debate as state reels from Hurricane Michael
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CNN is postponing a scheduled Senate debate in Florida next week after Gov. Rick Scott (R) backed out of the event, citing the devastation wrought on the state by Hurricane Michael.

Scott was set to face off against Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDisasters become big chunk of U.S. deficit Electoral battle for Hispanics intensifies in Florida Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November MORE (D-Fla.) on Tuesday in a debate hosted by the news network.

But in an email on Thursday, Scott's campaign manager said that the governor had asked CNN to delay the event for two weeks, while he dealt with the aftermath of the storm.

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"Due to the catastrophic destruction caused by Hurricane Michael, Governor Scott will be solely focused on response and recovery efforts," Jackie Schutz Zeckman wrote.

"Ensuring Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend communities can rebuild and return to their homes and jobs is top priority."

In a statement, a spokesperson for CNN said that the network had come to an agreement with both campaigns to push the debate to a later date while the state began the recovery process. 

"Due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Michael in Florida, CNN, in agreement with both campaigns, is postponing the Florida Senate debate between Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott," the spokesperson said. "A date and time for the rescheduled debate will be announced soon.

Dan McLaughlin, a spokesperson for Nelson, said in an email that the senator was focused on ensuring that residents affected by the hurricane received federal assistance.

"Sen. Bill Nelson is in Florida's Panhandle today and is working with federal authorities to get the maximum amount of resources into the state as soon as possible to help those who have been hardest hit by Hurricane Michael," he said in an email. "Now is not the time to discuss politics." 

Hurricane Michael made landfall near Panama City Beach on the coast of Florida's panhandle on Wednesday, making it the first Category 4 storm to strike the region in more than a century. 

Authorities said that at least six people have been killed in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina as a result of the storm.

The hurricane came less than a month before voters are due to cast their ballots in Florida's closely watched Senate and gubernatorial races.

Scott, who is term limited and cannot seek reelection as governor, is seeking to oust Nelson, a three-term Democrat and longtime presence in Florida politics.

The Senate race is among the closest in the country, with recent polls showing Nelson and Scott locked in a virtual dead heat. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, currently puts the race in the "toss-up" column.

--Updated at 5:15 p.m.