Florida’s U.S. Senate race has, at last, shifted into a position long predicted by political observers and even the candidates themselves: A neck-and-neck contest that will go down to the wire between Marco Rubio, the Republican incumbent, and Patrick Murphy, the Democratic challenger.
The candidates’ second and final debate Wednesday night is among their last chances to gain an edge in the competitive contest and to draw the support of undecided voters who’ve yet to cast their ballots.
The debate begins at 7 p.m. at Broward College in Davie.
More than 1.6 million Floridians have already voted by mail-in ballot or through in-person early voting, which began Monday. Millions more are expected to vote during the two weeks left until Nov. 8.
Voters can expect more of the same blend of policy and politics in Wednesday night’s debate as they saw in Rubio and Murphy’s first debate on Oct. 17. That event included questions on immigration, gun control, abortion and a wide array of other topics. But politics played prominently, too, when the candidates’ continued support for their party’s respective presidential nominees dominated the night.
Murphy’s support for Obamacare is likely to come up Wednesday, with news this week that premiums for health plans sold through the program could go up, on average, 25 percent next year. Rubio supports the GOP position of “repealing and replacing” Obamacare and will likely ask Murphy, a two-term Jupiter congressman, to answer for the premium increases because he has stood by the program.
Since the debate is in South Florida, the two are also likely to discuss climate change again — including Rubio’s rejection of scientific evidence that shows humans are playing a role in rising sea levels and other effects of climate change. Murphy supports addressing impacts in Florida and argues that Rubio “denies science.”
Meanwhile, expect Donald Trump’s name to come up a lot — again.
Murphy isn’t letting up on criticizing Rubio for his continued allegiance to the Republican presidential nominee. While Rubio stands by his endorsement of Trump, he hasn’t defended or had much of anything positive to say about him recently and won’t campaign with him. Despite Rubio trying to distance himself from Trump, he still might be asked to explain what Trump meant this week when he told a Jacksonville TV station that he and Rubio “are very much in sync.”
For his part, Rubio will likely try to pivot away from his ties to Trump and pin the issue back on Murphy by elaborating on an attack he made during the first debate. Rubio alleged Murphy’s family made “millions” from business deals with Trump through its South Florida construction company.
Murphy repeatedly denies any direct business connections between Trump and his family’s Coastal Construction Group. But CNN.com on Tuesday unearthed an old photo that Murphy will likely have to explain on the debate stage: An image of Murphy’s father, Coastal founder and CEO Tom Murphy Jr., joining Trump in a group photo-op at the ground-breaking for Trump Hollywood in 2007.
Before their first U.S. Senate debate 10 days ago, Murphy’s campaign had seemingly stalled as Rubio held a consistent lead for weeks. But two things have helped give Murphy fresh momentum that has put him within striking distance of Rubio: Rubio’s continued loyalty to Trump after a leaked tape revealed Trump’s lewd comments about women, and a debate performance by Murphy that exceeded modest expectations.
In the past week, polls have shown the race tightening to a dead-heat, and Murphy has benefited from Democratic leaders including President Barack Obama and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton promoting his candidacy. Notably, though, national Democratic groups have not re-invested millions of dollars in TV ad spending they pulled out of Florida when Murphy wasn’t faring well.
How to watch: Florida U.S. Senate debate
What: The second debate between Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Patrick Murphy.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26.
Where: Broward College, Davie.
How to watch: The debate will air on 11 TV stations statewide, including WTVJ NBC6 in Miami and Fort Lauderdale and on WPBF ABC25 in West Palm Beach, and it will be simulcast on Florida Public Radio member stations. Visit beforeyouvote.org for a complete list of TV stations airing the debate. Several of the stations — including event producer WPBF ABC25 in West Palm Beach — will live-stream it on their websites. The debate also will be broadcast live on WLRN 91.3-FM
Moderator: WPBF ABC25 news anchor Todd McDermott, with a media panel featuring Miami Herald political writer Patricia Mazzei and Tampa Bay Times Executive Editor Neil Brown
Sponsors: Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association