For months, Joe Garcia and national Democrats have relentlessly cast Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo as a Donald Trump Republican — or worse — arguing that votes the freshman Curbelo has taken with the House GOP caucus make his actions more serious than Trump’s words.
In a debate televised Sunday, Curbelo tried to turn the tables — and compared Garcia to Trump.
“I respect women, and you don’t,” Curbelo shot at Garcia, pointing a finger at him during WPLG-ABC 10’s “This Week in South Florida.”
At issue was a secretly recorded tape last month that caught Garcia characterizing Hillary Clinton as sexually unappealing — which host Michael Putney played on air. That tape came out nearly a month before The Washington Post released a 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording showing Trump bragging about forcing himself on women.
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“I said something stupid,” Garcia conceded. But, he added about Curbelo: “Everything he just said is completely false.”
So it goes in the hot race for Florida’s 26th district, one of the tightest in the nation.
Sunday’s debate, which had been taped Friday, was the first — and last — English-language debate that will air on TV. A final face-off, in Spanish, is scheduled for Nov. 1 on América TeVé. Curbelo and Garcia debated 10 days ago at their alma mater, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, but only for a live (and live-streamed) audience.
The two men are locked in a rematch of their 2014 race, held back when Garcia was the incumbent and before the majority-Hispanic district was redrawn to include new boundaries from Westchester to Key West and a voter base that leans left.
On Sunday, Garcia sought to detract from Curbelo’s record as one of Congress’ more moderate Republican members. He attacked Curbelo for promoting legislation to curtail government benefits to Cubans he believes are abusing entitlements intended for political refugees, and for wanting to repeal Obamacare.
Curbelo criticized what he said was Garcia’s lack of accomplishments during his one term in Congress, and repeatedly brought up the fact that Garcia’s former campaign chief served jail time for running a scheme to submit mail-ballot requests online on behalf of unsuspecting voters (Garcia wasn’t charged).
As in their previous debate, the first questions for the old foes was about their preference in the presidential debate, which has a real possibility of having a down-ballot impact: Garcia is ardently pro-Clinton, while Curbelo, who actually attacked Trump in his own campaign commercial, says he isn’t voting for either the Republican or Democratic nominees.
“The only difference between Donald Trump and Carlos Curbelo is that Donald Trump doesn’t have a record. Carlos Curbelo has a record: standing against women, standing against minorities,” Garcia said. “Here’s someone who voted for a 48-hour waiting period for a woman who’s been raped. Someone who’s consistently voted against women’s rights.”
Garcia also attacked after Curbelo called himself unapologetically pro-life and noted he supported a bill last year to ban abortions after 20 weeks — legislation that some also felt was prohibitive to sex-abuse victims because it required counseling before allowing an abortion.
Curbelo was ready, armed with Garcia’s own comments on a secretly recorded video that Clinton wasn’t going to seduce voters or “out-think” them. Garcia said the video was taken out of context, but Curbelo said it showed his true colors.
“His rhetoric is all lies. Listen to him. You know I have two little girls, ages 6 and 4. He says I’m against women, and does anyone really believe that?” Curbelo said, evoking the leaked videotape of Garcia’s comments. “You’re disrespectful against women and you should apologize today for that nasty rhetoric you’ve used.”