Politics & Government

5 topics to watch for in first Rubio-Murphy debate Monday night

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, left, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.
Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, left, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. AP/Palm Beach Post

The debate over debates is over.

Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Patrick Murphy will finally stand face-to-face Monday in Orlando.

The one-hour debate will be held at the University of Central Florida and broadcast online and on certain TV and radio stations statewide. ABC chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl will moderate.

In the first of at least two debates over the next three weeks, here are five things to watch:

1. Can Murphy win?

Six months ago, the 33-year-old Miami native was the odds-on favorite.

Back then, Murphy had raised nearly $8 million, had a fresh endorsement from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and was looking at a group of little-known Republican challengers.

But in June, after pressure from Senate GOP leaders, Rubio announced he changed his mind and would seek re-election. Now Murphy is the underdog who spent much of the summer in a bruising primary where he defended his résumé embellishments. Since July, more than 25 public polls have been conducted. None show Murphy winning.

READ MORE: Murphy looks to gain edge over Rubio using Trump video

2. Does Rubio really want the job?

For more than a year, Rubio insisted to any reporter who dared ask that he wasn’t seeking re-election.

“I have only said, like 10,000 times, I will be a private citizen in January,” Rubio said in May on Twitter.

Rubio gets to explain to millions of voters where he’s at now. Murphy will surely remind the audience of Rubio’s poor attendance record in the U.S. Senate and raise the larger question of whether Rubio really wants to represent Florida — or run again for president in 2020.

3. Presidential allegiance

Rubio is no fan of Donald Trump. During the presidential campaign, Rubio called Trump a con artist, a clown act, a lunatic, and, in an ill-fated move, questioned the size of his hands.

And he took to Twitter to express outrage of Trump’s comments on the “Access Hollywood” video. “No one should ever talk about any woman in those terms, even in private,” Rubio tweeted.

READ MORE: Rubio stands by Trump after tape

Yet, Murphy is undoubtedly going to tie Trump around Rubio. How? Because the incumbent has continued to say he will support the Republican nominee. Unlike others in the U.S. Senate, Rubio has refused to unendorse Trump. Rubio’s rationale is that Hillary Clinton is far worse for America.

Rubio is ready to return fire with anti-Clinton sentiment.

4. Is Murphy qualified?

Much as Murphy will question Rubio’s work ethic, Rubio will likely waste no time bringing up discrepancies in Murphy’s résumé and questions about whether Murphy truly has the professional experience to be a U.S. senator.

Since late May, media outlets have investigated inaccurate, and at times misleading, claims Murphy has made. He embellished his academic degree from the University of Miami. But it’s more complicated when discussing his claims of his having been a Certified Public Accountant and a small business owner. Republican ads have labeled Murphy a liar, while Murphy counters that the attacks against him have all been “debunked.”

Some of the Republicans’ attacks — but not all, as Murphy asserts — have been rated false by independent fact-checkers, like PolitiFact. The nuances of Murphy’s experience get lost in the rhetoric, but nonetheless, the confusion makes for prime ammo.

READ MORE: A guide to the attacks on Murphy’s résumé

5. How will they appeal to Hispanic voters?

In Florida, the large and growing base of Hispanic voters could prove to be kingmakers. Yet both candidates are treading dangerous paths: Immigration activists are going after Rubio in radio ads, and Murphy made a politically risky call to end the embargo with Cuba.

Right now, Rubio appears to be leading among Hispanic voters. A Mason-Dixon poll conducted in late September shows him up 47 percent to Murphy’s 40 percent.

To keep that lead, he’ll have to contend with Trump’s unpopularity with Hispanics, who favor Hillary Clinton over Trump 54 percent to 30 percent, according to an Associated Industries of Florida poll.

Hispanics, and especially Cubans, could help propel Rubio to victory, but only if some of them are willing to split ballots for a Republican senator and a presidential candidate from another party. Similarly, Murphy will likely be trying to carry some of Clinton’s support down ballot into the Senate race.

Herald/Times reporter Michael Auslen contributed to this report.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

How to watch: Florida U.S. Senate debate

What: The first of two scheduled televised debates between Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Patrick Murphy

When: 7 p.m. (eastern) Oct. 17

Where: University of Central Florida, Orlando

How to watch: The debate will be simulcast live on ABC affiliates throughout the state, as well as Cox Media Group radio stations. A livestream will be available online at abcnews.com/live and politico.com/live.

Moderators: ABC chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, with questions posed by WFTV Channel 9 anchors Greg Warmoth and Nancy Alvarez and Marc Caputo of Politico.

Sponsors: WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando, in partnership with ABC News, Politico and Cox Media Group.