When asked what the candidates would do to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” that will force automatic budget cuts at the end of the year if a compromise for the debt ceiling is not found, neither offered specifics.
Nelson, who voted with the majority in the Senate to approve the so-called sequestration that could trigger $500 million in budget cuts to the military, said the threatened cut “was never intended to happen.”
Mack said he didn’t vote for the bill because “it was a dumb idea.”
Mack repeatedly accused Nelson of voting for tax increases 150 times, but his claim inflates the number of votes by counting non-binding resolutions, duplicative votes on the same bill and fails to account for Nelson’s support of tax cuts.
The debate was the last time the two candidates are scheduled to be together in what has been one of the most low-key Senate races in recent Florida history.
The candidates differed on immigration as well. Nelson said he would support a pathway for citizenship for illegal immigrants as long as it is part of comprehensive immigration reform and requires illegal immigrants to “have a clean record and learn English.’’
Mack said he does not support amnesty but supports giving legal immigrants access “to the American Dream.”
On one issue close to Florida neither candidate dared disagree: the Cuban embargo. Neither candidate said they would support lifting it, although Nelson said he wants to ensure access to family members.
“Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl are brutal people,’’ Mack said. “Lifting the embargo – the only thing it would do would pad the pockets of the Castro brothers.”
The candidates have largely waged the campaign on television, with Nelson raising money early and running negative ads featuring Mack’s personal financial woes, his divorce, his hard-partying youth and attendance record in Congress.
Mack has relied on third parties to attack Nelson, primarily accusing him of voting for the so-called Obamacare and for his farm tax breaks.
The race was initially viewed as a possible pick up for Republicans in their attempt to shift the partisan balance in the U.S. Senate, but Mack’s poor standing in the polls and Nelson’s steady lead have shifted national attention away from Florida.
Mack and his campaign are undeterred. “There are three weeks left of the campaign; we’re perfectly positioned,’’ said Connie Mack III, the former U.S. senator and father of the candidate.