Crist, Meek, Rubio clash in first Senate debateby George Bennett | September 17th, 2010
MIAMI — Each of Florida’s three Senate candidates sought to differentiate himself from his rivals Friday in a one-hour debate on Spanish-language Univision taped this afternoon.
With a considerable portion of the debate focusing on immigration and issues of concern to Hispanics, the lone Hispanic in the race — Republican nominee Marco Rubio — staked out more conservative positions than Democratic rival Kendrick Meek or independent Charlie Crist.
Rubio said he supports making English the official language of the U.S. and opposes a Democratic bill that would let students in the country illegally become citizens if they enlist in the military or attend college. Both Meek and Crist support the DREAM Act.
Rubio also disagreed with Crist and Meek on a “path to citizenship” for the estimated 11 million or more people in the country illegally. He said the U.S. must secure its borders and beef up employment verification before attempting “modernization” of its immigration laws.
Crist and Meek criticized Arizona’s controversial crackdown on illegal immigrants. Rubio said the law — which he criticized before it was amended by the Arizona legislature — isn’t right for the rest of the U.S., but he said Arizona faced unique problems because of its border with Mexico.
Rubio throughout the debate characterized himself as the only candidate who would “stand up” to the Democratic agenda in Washington. He opposed the Democratic stimulus bill, which Meek voted for and Crist embraced.
Meek characterized himself as the only champion of the middle class, calling Rubio and former Republican Crist “my two lifelong conservative Republican friends” and noting their support for extending all the Bush tax cuts. Meek opposes extending the tax cuts for the wealthy.
Meek supported the Democratic health care bill, which Rubio and Crist say they would have voted against.
Crist, who quit the GOP in April when he fell behind Rubio in the Republican Senate primary, highlighted his new nonpartisan status.
“I’m running against two fine people, but they are the political nominees of their respective party. This is an opportunity to change all of that, to make a true difference, to have a better way,” Crist said.
Crist and Meek have clashed over Democratic votes, but it was Rubio who offered the sharpest criticism of the governor.
“You only changed parties and did this independent thing when you couldn’t win the Republican primary,” Rubio said. “And now you wake up everyday and you try to figure out what can you say or do to take more votes away from Congressman Meek so more Democrats will vote for you. But everybody sees it for what it is, everybody gets it. So I think we owe voters more respect than that.”