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Rubio, Crist and Meek Square Off in Heated Debate for Florida Senate

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Social Security, corruption, immigration and party switching were just a few of the hot topics Wednesday night as Florida's three Senate candidates sat down for their second face-to-face debate.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos moderated the hour-long face-off between Republican Marco Rubio, Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek, and Charlie Crist, the state's Republican governor who became an independent just before Florida's GOP primary.

Stephanopoulos began the questioning with the most recent controversy in the race -- an ad from Crist that accused Rubio of planning to raise the retirement age and cut Social Security benefits for Florida's 3.1 million seniors.

Rubio, who once said everything should be on the table to shore up Social Security, called the ad "blatantly untrue," as he told Crist his own mother is 80 years old and relies on Social Security as her primary income. "For you to suggest that I would somehow advocate ideas that would harm her is outrageous," he said. "It's not true. It's a lie."

Crist said he stood by the ad. "I understand that he may not like what he said before, but the facts are the facts and facts are stubborn things," he said. "The people in Florida have a right to know what Marco Rubio would do."

In a strange twist, Crist said he would support a plan endorsed by Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's secretary of Labor, to give the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country a path to citizenship but also have them pay taxes into the Social Security system and fill its coffers.

Both Meek and Crist sought to position themselves as the alternative to Rubio, who is leading in recent polls, by launching frequent attacks on the former Florida House speaker, while Rubio and Meek pummeled Crist for switching his position on issues, just as he switched parties to keep himself in the race for governor.

Crist defended his choices as honest and chalked the other men's attacks up to partisan politics as usual, telling Florida voters the debate proved why he, not Rubio or Meek, would be the candidate who could change Washington's ways.



The conversation at one point turned to a report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which included all three Senate hopefuls on its list of America's most corrupt candidates in 2010.

Crist said that when Rubio was House speaker, he was "clearly wrong" for pushing spending on projects that would benefit Rubio personally, which Rubio dismissed as "false allegations."

"I think it's interesting that the governor says he wants to go to Washington to get rid of the rancor and the ugly talk in politics, and yet he is participating in it fully," Rubio said.

When Meek and Rubio later devolved into bickering over the $800-billion stimulus plan that Meek supported and Rubio called "a complete failure," Crist jumped in to push his new, independent brand again. "This is why I am running as an independent," Crist said. "There are good things both parties can offer for the future of this country. If you want somebody to go to Washington to cut through the fog of this partisanship, I'm your guy."

Stephanopoulos often interrupted to keep the candidates on track and moved the discussion along to hit several policy issues before the hour ended.

On health-care reform, Rubio called the law that passed Congress "a disaster" and promised to repeal it and replace it with a plan that would allow consumers to buy insurance across state lines and let small businesses pool their resources to buy plans together.

Crist said he liked parts of the new law, like the measure allowing adults under 26 to buy insurance through their parents, but said he wanted to revisit the $500-billion cut to Medicare Advantage in the bill. "We have to fix it, but it has to be done right," Crist said.

Meek accused Crist of treating the bill "like a breakfast bar," where he picked only what he liked from it. "I'm not going to take advice from anyone who bailed out of a Republican primary and would not face Marco Rubio," Meek said. "I am the only one here who understands that 100 Floridians lose their insurance every week."

On the Bush tax cuts, Crist called it the wrong time to raise taxes on anybody, while Rubio said the country needs to grow the economy with a combination of "stable and affordable tax cuts" and spending cuts. Meek accused both men of being willing to "give millionaires and billionaires a tax break on the backs of the middle class."

The debate ended with a discussion of two local issues -- the first a plan to build a high-speed rail line linking several Florida cities. Rubio refused to support the plan, saying that the out-of-control national debt made many worthy projects unrealistic.

"Nothing is more important than dealing with this long-term debt issue," Rubio said. "That's a priority over almost anything else our country faces."

Crist endorsed the idea as governor and favored it again Wednesday night. "It''s all about jobs, jobs, jobs," Crist said.

But Meek attacked Crist for failing to provide leadership on the high-speed rail project. "Charlie Crist stands on a wet paper box as it relates to the issues," Meek said. "When it comes to the issues, we don't know where he stands."

The biggest fireworks of the evening came at the end of the debate, when the issue of gay adoption was raised. Crist once supported a Florida ban on gay adoption, but recently praised a judge's decision to overturn the ban. Crist said he supported the ban because it was the law in Florida, but welcomed the change.

"Some people in Washington want to tell people who they should love and who they shouldn't," Crist said. "I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy . . .I am a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. I really believe in less government and more freedom."

Rubio said Crist's positions had curiously changed along with his party affiliation. "It's always great to listen to the governor attack me for positions he held six months ago when he was trying to be the biggest conservative in the world," Rubio said.

Meek took the chance to agree with Rubio for once and said Crist's new position on the issue was too politically expedient to be genuine. Comparing Crist to Gov. George Wallace, the governor of Alabama who fought to keep public schools segregated, Meek said, "He stood in the schoolhouse door on this issue and now you want to be the biggest cheerleader of gay adoption."

Heading into the debate, the most recent state-wide polls showed Rubio leading with 39 percent of the vote, Crist with 33 percent and Meek with 17 percent.
Filed Under: The Capitolist

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24 Comments

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msgusarmyret77

I you want to go back to where we were in Nov. 2008 vote for Rubio. If you want to continue the climb out of the hole we were put into by the Republicans vote for Meek. The Republicans don't care if 48,000 die each year because of no insurance. They don't care if premiums are rising 15-20% each year. In 10-15 years the only ones who will have insurance will be the rich. Since the wages for the middle-class have declined over $2,000 under Bush before long they will all be below the poverty line like one in seven Americans are now. Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 are responsible for most of the National Debt we have now and the Republicans never cared while they were in power. It only becomes a problem when the Democrats take office. The top 20% of the population now control 80% of the wealth and the Republicans want to increase that by extending the tax cust for those making over $250,000. That will add another $700 billion to the National Debt as the Republicans claim the debt is our problem.

October 07 2010 at 1:24 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
brian

Why should Meek drop out. He is the only credible candidate in the race!! Win or Lose, I will vote for the best candidate and that is Mr. Meek.

October 07 2010 at 12:46 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
laurenjohnsontf

Rubio is clearly where a majority of Floridians are on the issues. Meek has no chance whatsoever due to his snuggling up to Barak Obama on very single issue there is. How anyone can vote for for Charlie Crist is beyond me. He won't even say who he'll caucus with if elected. Oh sure Charlie, you'll take the "best ideas of both parties" and be independent. Really? You have to caucus with someone......who will it be? Obamacare is a case in point. Charlie likes parts of the law but says it needs to be "done right". The fact of the matter is that the law wasn't done right. Charlie won't attack or defend Obamacare. This is a perfect example of what we need to get rid of in politics. Stand for something.

October 07 2010 at 12:28 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
olearb382

Meek should drop out and tell his supporters to support Crist. He has no chance. Crist an Independent being snubbed by the Republicans then might lean Democratic.

October 07 2010 at 12:12 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
BLUEWHITEMARBLE

do a background check on these people and all future candidates before anything. see if they are on the level with the ethics , drugs, corruption guidelines and the like before they run for any further civil-servant job positions o.k. thank you

October 07 2010 at 11:57 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
kwrohan

It seems that lots of us feel the same way - what a sad trio to choose from!! My husband and I decided that the only way to form an opinion about who to vote for in this race is to decide what is YOUR most important issue and then vote for the one who agrees with you most closely on that particular issue. For me, the oil spill has stressed, more than ever, the importance of protecting the environement - so that means I vote for Meek. For my husband it is the problems with our state's finances and how it has affected the public schools, for some of you, it is another issue alltogether. The main thing to remember is that you must GO VOTE !!

October 07 2010 at 11:43 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
sadmaawk

For those of you who would vote for Crist, I would remind you that just over two and a half years ago, as the Chief Executive of the state, he ordered the FDLE to identify the remains of no less than 32 kids buried by state of Florida employees on the school grounds of the A.G. Dozier school for boys in Marianna. To this day, not one has been identified. In my opinion, the investigation was called off by the FDLE, and the Asst. States Attorney because they believed that if they actually turned the first scoop of dirt it was all together possible that they might find a few bodies that weren't supposed to be there, and some one involved in Juvenile Justice, Children and families, and other "law enforcement" type agencies would have been responsible for it. Charlie couldn't do squat about the housing crises, unemployment, or even an oil leak, but he sure as heck could have said "dig the whole, and let's see what's under our school". For fear of alienating the FOP, and all the other bullies that wear badges in this state, it looks like Whips and Chains Charlie is willing to give a pass to those who would murder our youth. We will never know the whole truth till some one identifies all the "remains" at Dozier, and not even on TV can one identify "remains" without looking at them.

October 07 2010 at 11:36 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
KELLI2L

I watched some of this debate. I particularly took note of how Rubio tryed to deny that Crist had to VETO some of "Rubio's" parts of Bills (where Rubio had tried to get Pork Spending thru for his favorite pet projects) and a job for his friend... This is not good for Florida citizens folks. It is just what we don't want and certainly don't need. . . .

October 07 2010 at 11:31 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
KELLI2L

NO TO RUBIO: ...In my opinon Marco Rubio is the new kid in town (so to speak). But he is not pure and a huge draw-back for him getting MY vote is that he is a "DRILL-BABY-DRILL" candidate and for me that is a huge STOP SIGN. Florida cannot afford to take any more chances on allowing MORE drilling for anything off our Coast Lines (which we are surrounded by) !!! YES TO CRIST: ....During Charlie Crists governance Florida has done well. During Jeb Bush Florida did badly, because Bush was also a "DRILL-BABY-DRILL" candidate but he never could say NO to any corporate or Utility requests for increase. Because of this, Floridians were paying huge insurance fees, huge Real Estate fees, raising Utility costs. . . .which in-fact caused a record number of Floridians to move out of state !!! .....I'm not going to go back to that GOP style of governance with Marco Rubio voting on what Florida should do or not do - - can or cannot have, etc. NO TO MEEKS: ...And I don't trust Meeks to not benefit by his legislation more than the people he works for will benefit.....

October 07 2010 at 11:23 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
hollyann313

"In a strange twist, Crist said he would support a plan endorsed by Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's secretary of Labor, to give the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country a path to citizenship"...so long Crist.

October 07 2010 at 11:14 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

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