The final debate between U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy began much like you would expect in a tightening Senate race in the most populous swing state in America.
Just minutes into their hourlong debate Wednesday night, Murphy blasted Rubio for missing votes to run for president and accused him of lying.
“Senator, if you voted as much as you lied, you might actually be a decent senator,” Murphy said.
Rubio returned fire, calling Murphy a “serial embellisher” for discrepancies on his résumé and as someone who has failed to get anything done in his short career in the U.S. House.
“He’s been there for four years and nobody has even noticed,” Rubio said.
Public polling suggests the race is narrowing and could break either way. Three major polls released in the last two weeks have shown the race a dead heat or within the margin of error, yet Rubio has not trailed in any public polling since the start of September.
Already more than 2 million ballots have been cast through vote-by-mail and early voting in Florida.
For much of the night, Rubio used the debate to mark himself as the more accomplished of the two during their short tenures in Congress. Rubio, a Miami Republican, has been in the U.S. Senate since 2010, while Murphy, a Palm Beach County congressman, has been in the House since 2012.
“I have real concrete achievements I can point to,” Rubio said, citing work on the Everglades, efforts to fight human trafficking and pressure he’s brought on slumlords around the state as evidence he’s been doing his job.
“We all know he never shows up to work,” Murphy countered.
Murphy said he has worked more across the aisle on citrus research, on the Everglades and to address the backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“These accomplishments are in stark contrast to my opponent who doesn’t even show up to work,” Murphy said.
As has been the case for most of the fall, the candidates clashed over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Nineteen times during the debate Murphy brought up Trump — and Rubio’s support for him.
“A noun a verb and Donald Trump, that is his answer to everything,” Rubio responded.
The debate at Broward College in Davie was sponsored by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association. It was moderated by Todd McDermott, news anchor for WPBF ABC25 in West Palm Beach, with questions posed by Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Tampa Bay Times, and Patricia Mazzei, political writer for the Miami Herald.
On other key issues the two fought over how to handle Social Security and the Affordable Care Act. Rubio warned if Social Security isn’t altered for future beneficiaries, the program will go bankrupt. He said his plan wouldn’t alter the program for current beneficiaries or those close to retirement.
“Anyone who tells you we can leave it like it is lying,” Rubio said.
Murphy said he opposes raising the retirement age and accused Rubio of seeking to privatize it — something Rubio said isn’t true.
Murphy defended the Affordable Care Act as a huge step forward that needs “fixing.” But Rubio, who has supported repealing Obamacare, said Murphy only wants to make it bigger. He said it would be better for employers to give workers money to buy any insurance tax free and provide tax credits to people who buy private health insurance.
The two mixed it up on other issues as well. Murphy said he’d back increasing the minimum wage and he supports President Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Rubio opposes both. He said raising the minimum wage could cost 500,000 to 600,000 jobs and U.S. negotiations with Cuba have been too one-sided.
“We have now made, over two years, concession after concession to the Castro regime and they have taken not even a quarter step toward democracy,” Rubio said.
The debate once again forced Murphy, 33, to defend against accusations that he has padded his résumé. Various media outlets over the summer uncovered discrepancies in Murphy’s time working as a Certified Public Accountant and a small business owner.
During the debate, Murphy falsely claimed that Rubio’s attacks on his résumé have “all been debunked” by independent fact-checkers, like PolitiFact. Some specific claims, such as Murphy’s embellishing his academic record by saying he had two degrees when he didn’t, had some merit. Other criticisms have been more nuanced. Murphy was licensed as a CPA, but not in Florida, for example.
Rubio, 45, was pushed to say whether he will serve out a full six-year term if elected, or try to run again for president in 2020. In the last debate in Orlando, Rubio said he would serve the full six-year term “god willing.” McDermott asked if that was a qualifier to give him a way out to run for the White House again.
Rubio did not directly say he would not run again for president, only saying that adding “God willing” was not a qualifier. He said it is what he believes.
“While man plans the steps, it’s God that plans our course,” Rubio said.
PolitiFact Florida staff writer Joshua Gillin contributed to this report.
Clark reported from Davie; Wallace reported from Tallahassee.