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’ll go down to the wire between Marco Rubio, the Republican incumbent, and Patrick Murphy, the Democratic challenger.
The candidates’ second — and likely 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 ballots.
The debate begins at 7 p.m. at Broward College in Davie.
More than 1.6 million Floridians have already voted either 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 since he’s 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 Rubio “denies science.”
Meanwhile, expect Donald Trump’s name to come up a lot, as it did in the first debate.
Murphy isn’t letting up on criticizing Rubio for his continued allegiance to the Republican presidential nominee. But 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. As Rubio tries to distance himself from Trump, he might be asked to explain, though, what Trump meant this week when he told a Jacksonville TV station 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 after 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.