Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and his Democratic challenger, Congresswoman Val Demings, quickly got combative Tuesday as they sought to sway remaining undecided voters in their only head-to-head meeting ahead of the Nov. 8 election for a seat the GOP must retain if it wants to take control of the U.S. Senate.
In what appears to be the most-competitive of Florida’s statewide races, Rubio and Demings offered contrasting views on the economy, abortion, international affairs, voting rights, immigration and gun regulations during an hour-long debate at Palm Beach State College’s Duncan Theatre.
Rubio blamed Democrats, including Demings, for global inflation, arguing they passed more COVID-19 pandemic relief than necessary and pointing to support for the policies of President Joe Biden and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“We cannot do with some of these crazy policies that are coming from the left, that (Congresswoman) Demings has supported,” Rubio said. “She supported a plan to put a $10.25-cent tax per barrel of oil, which would make 35 cents per gallon more for everyone listening here today. We can’t do that kind of crazy stuff. It only adds to the inflation. I think it begins with winning this election and getting people like her out of office.”
Demings, who emphasized her law-enforcement background, described Rubio as extreme on abortion and health care and took issue with Rubio’s charge that she’s been unable to pass legislation since she entered Congress in 2017.
“I’m really disappointed in you Marco Rubio because I think there was a time when you did not lie in order to win,” Demings, a former Orlando police chief, said. “I don’t know what happened to you. You know, that is not true. My first term in the United States House I passed legislation to help law-enforcement officers with no health programs.”
Seating inside the Duncan Theatre was limited to the debate teams and certain college and community leaders and students.
State Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, described the atmosphere inside the theater as “intense,” with the candidates offering a clear contrast on an array of issues.
“I think Sen. Rubio had to realize that tonight, while debating congresswoman, the chief, Val Demings, that she was not here to be run over, to be pushed to the side or to be stepped on,” Powell said. “She came out fighting back. She punched back when he punched.”
Martin County Sheriff Bill Snyder, a former Republican legislator from Stuart, described the contest as “fiery,” but he didn’t declare a clear victory for either candidate.
“I think they both held their own,” Snyder said. “I think that the congresswoman’s answers and convictions were clear. But we know her actions. We know her votes. We know what her current team is doing to undermine our safety.”
Susan MacManus, a retired political-science professor at the University of South Florida, wasn’t sure the debate would change many minds but said “there was a lot more substance to this debate in terms of the topics,” such as property insurance and international affairs.
Pointing to Russia and China, Demings said, “we have to hold those who are not our friends accountable.”
“We have to continue to support Ukraine. And our NATO allies,” Demings said. “Of course, we gotta hold Russia accountable. We always use diplomacy around the NATO table. We cannot afford to have a nuclear attack. And the United States has to do everything in its power to prevent that from happening.”
Rubio said a unified NATO is needed for actions involving Russia and that the U.S. must build up its weapons systems, including aircraft, and stop relying on China for manufacturing to counter Chinese expansion and aggression.
“I’ve worked on things like bringing the pharmaceutical industry back to the United States, particularly Puerto Rico,” Rubio said.
Heading into the debate, Demings more than held her own in fundraising for the race, handicapped as “lean Republican” by The Cook Political Report.
But in seeking his third term in the Senate, Rubio has been able to maintain the lead in polls in the GOP-controlled state. A recent Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey showed Rubio up 47 percent to 41 percent.
Rubio, a former state House speaker, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 and re-elected in 2016 after ending a presidential bid.
Former President Donald Trump and other Republicans have stoked questions about the election system. But after being prodded by debate moderator Todd McDermott, an anchor on the West Palm Beach television station WPBF, Rubio said he would support the outcome of the election.
“We have great laws in Florida, absolutely,” Rubio replied.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
Florida has the opportunity to get rid of one of the two worst senators this state could ever have. Rubio comes alive for elections but after that he fades into the background unless he surfaces with some flippant remark. He’s only interested in himself and remaining a senator. I hope enough Floridians will see through him and elect Val Demings. She is a law enforcement professional with a proven record and she’s truly interested in supporting Floridians from her office. It’s past time for Rubio to go. He offers nothing.
Totally agree Jim!
He’s a worthless do little in our Senate.
wake up says
Except for the huge population in Florida that is against abortion and having our rights to protect ourselves infringed. Thats really all she speaks on. All her policies are garbage and if we think things are expensive now she will keep pushing radical left nonsense at the expense of everybody. Vote no to this trash and keep Florida red as it should be
“He offers nothing.” …
I hear he has a great dating service.
Concerned American says
Totally disagree! Val has no experience and is nothing but a left activist! Anyone who votes Democrat these days has been listening to the commie media.
And anyone that votes for a cult party led by a traitor of the US only listens to Fox propaganda station and drink the kool aid.
You know? I’m NPA, and I’m stunned at the comment “…commie media.” Would you please be more specific and tell me exactly what “commie media” you are referring to (and more likely who told you to think that)?
You typed that with a straight face? Fox News has done its job I guess.
rubio’s middle name is schlemiel — like those who vote for him.
And now this:
desantis, rubio, scott, waltz, renner, et al, explained.
Ask the Florida Sheriffs what they think before you vote. I believe they are supporting Rubio.
The FCSO should not be showing any by partianship to either party. Leave the politics out of Government officials .
Absolutely! They protect and serve all citizens.
The Republican platform promises to sunset Social Security and Medicare. Why on earth would anyone vote for that? Think of what that would do to the economy. Social Security is my disposable income. Without it I will not dine at your restaurant, purchase gifts at your store, buy craft supplies at your store, get a mani/pedi, hire you to clean my house, get my car washed every week, send flowers or edibles, etc. Whatever we get from Social Security goes back into the economy.
So to business people and their staffs, a vote for a Republican is a vote to eliminate me from your customer base.
Why is this lady always so angry? Even her commercials come off as some angry old woman. Let her stay home and enjoy retirement. Maybe a little volume in her diet would help.
She is not angry she is speaking sternly and making a point on the failure of Rubio and they lies he keeps saying. Wake up.
Black Barney Fife says
She is still angry about someone stealing her gun from her unlocked patrol car. Thats a fact….look it up.
Bill C says
You see her as an “angry old woman” because in Rubio campaign ads she’s portrayed as angry. That’s all Rubio’s got, no record of achievement, so he has to resort to image, not substance. You added the “old” part, like that’s something to be ashamed of (in your mind), and perhaps you resent accomplished women who should instead “stay home” and gain weight.
Might want to educate yourself… That “angry old woman” is not only NOT retired, but is a sitting US Congresswoman. Even if she loses this election, she’ll still be a US Congresswoman, angry or otherwise. Either way, this “angry old woman” will continue to fight to make certain you get to keep and expand Social Security, Medicare, have safe bridges and roads to drive on, keeps your grandkids from getting their heads chopped off from dirt dobbers on the other side of the planet, and makes certain some of the most disgusting, deplorable barely human beings that filthy rich Americans produce don’t declare themselves king in our democracy!
Nephew of Uncle Sam says
Good debate last night, if I had to pick a winner I’d go with Val because she came prepared. Marco most of the time seemed to be grasping for help and would keep going back to blaming Dems, Liberals, Biden etc. forgetting that he’s been sitting in Congress basically doing nothing since he got there. Time for him to go and next up the other do nothing Senator.
Keep Flagler Beautiful says
There are obviously two Val Demings — the one who said last night that she would put “boots on the ground” and get tough at the Texas border, and the one who already voted against sending the National Guard to Texas. She had her impressive moments, but at one point, she waffled a lot and couldn’t answer a question. She just said, over and over again, (paraphrasing here) that something had to be done about it. Rubio seemed like an angry guy, but that just seems to be the way he is. To his credit, he has, and gives, answers whether they’re popular or not. I went into the debate with an absolutely open mind and came out of it thinking that with both candidates we know what we’ll be getting, but also that neither of them is the best that Florida can do.
Rubio has done very little to help this state or its people. He refuses to condem the sale of AR 15 assault weapons, he has no resolution to control our borders only blame others for the problem.
What does it take people in this state to see what poltical candidates are for improving the state or those that are just out for themselves?
He was tripping over his own words last night in the debate and didn’t show any words of positive things to improve the state, he was only on the defensive and lack any construction options for ways to improve the State of Florida.
Wake up people and vote for a public servant that is for the people and upholds the US Constitution which they swore on the swearing in they would uphold.
Bill C says
“Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.” Think about if your vote wouldn’t count and millions of votes could be undone by a few Secretaries of State. That’s what the MAGA crowd is wishing to accomplish- if they win, it’s a fair election, if they lose it was stolen, then Secretaries of State decide who won, not the vote count. Heads I win, tails you lose. The American experiment in democracy hangs in the balance.
Bill C says
ps For example, Kari Lake, the ultra right Republican candidate for Governor of Arizona stated ““I’m going to win the election, and I will accept that results.” It’s the only result she would accept, just like what a wanna-be dictator would say.
Hey good Christians. Sure, Trump is not on the ballot but Trumpism IS. Do you really support the originator of Trumpist values by a man who said “You can do whatever you want, grab ’em by the pussy”, who had “love letters” with Kim Jung Un, a brutal dictator who threatens America with nuclear weapons? If you support this, in my opinion, you’re committing a sin. WWJD?
For Real says
Sooner or later it will come out on what Trump did with top secret documents and it isn’t going to a report in his favor by any means. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t come out that he is a spy for Russia. It’s just a matter of time.
So, does Rubio think Trump is awful, or wonderful? Depends on the day, right? Are Cuban immigrants the only people on the planet who are acceptable immigrants? He’s too all over the place, and another candidate that I don’t believe.
Val Demings is a much stronger character. I’m voting for her.
Dennis C Rathsam says
Demmings has yet to introduce a bill, after 2 years NONE! . She votes with Biden 99% onthe time. In 2 years the democrate have done nothing to help with inflation,its plain as the nose on your face, this country,s going in the wrong direction.
Rick G says
it appears that you are merely quoting from incorrect and erroneous right wing media. The Rs voted against lowering the cost of insulin and to allow Medicare to negotiate prices with Big Pharma. Oh and they were not the party that supports the insurrection at our Country’s Capitol and our Dem leaders haven’t stolen classified and top secret documents.
No. Inflation is not going up in the U.S. because the working class got a $1,400 check 19 months ago. Multinational corporations are jacking up prices worldwide.
Joe: That’s right. They do it because they can and blame the Democrats for it, though it’s the Republican politicians who work for them. Look at the price of diesel. It is a fuel that’s cheaper to process, yet it is nearly $2 more a gallon than regular gas, which means it will be passed on to the consumer as it is used by shipping. Who favors big oil? Republicans.
Edith Campins says
Inflation didn’t just happen over the last two year. It i the result of 4 years of trump’s failed ecoomic policies. Among them:
1. That all changed on January 22, 2018. That was the date that marked the end of peaceful trade relations with China. The Trump administration slapped high tariffs on the importation of solar cells and washing machines from China. This was the beginning of the trade war that would expand to Europe, Canada, Mexico, most of Asia, and ultimately the entire world
2. Under former President Donald Trump, the U.S. national debt rose by nearly $7.8 trillion, following the third-largest primary deficit growth out of all U.S. presidents except for George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln.
3. Trump’s farmer bailout gave $21 billion to red counties and $2.1 billion to blue ones
4. Trump’s golf trips have cost the American taxpayer $141,000,000
Yes, and don’t forget what Trump charged the Secret Service for staying at his buildings while protecting him. How about DeSantis using our Florida tax dollars to fly legal immigrants from Texas to Massachusetts. Yeah, those boys are good with our money, but they sure do and say a lot of dumb stuff.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
1. Tariffs are used by the President to protect American workers from unfair foreign competition
2. Raising Deficit- eliminate pork spending, stop subsidizing foreign leaders, reduce the Federal government.
3. Returning the tariff money to the disadvantaged farmers, and securing our food supply is important.
4. Yep, Government servants should pay for their own security or trust in the protection provided by local Police officers.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
With all due respect…
We should expect no new laws, but instead hope for the removal of some restrictions.
Democrats have historically been *much better* for the economy than Republicans. Fifty years of economic data confirms it.
What Republicans are far better at is *falsely demonizing their opponents* over the economy.
Any voter who has been paying attention since 1980 knows this.
OH, How I miss the days of Jimmy Carter. 16% mortgage rates, odd and even days to fill up your gas tank. It took a (R) to clean up the mess. Remember the 1984 election. 525 electoral votes, the most in history. I find your statement since 1980 quite humorous.
I would agree that Bill Clinton did a good with the economy during his presidency. Republicans controlled both houses 6 of the 8 years under Clinton. In contrast, look at Georges Bush’s last two years. Both Houses were democrat controlled. How did that work out?
I’m disappointed there wasn’t any discussion on the most important issue facing Florida – transgender rights. As someone who just became eligible to vote and has recently transitioned, I needed to hear from both on this. Specifically, the state should pay for transition surgery, medication and counseling. Does anyone know where each candidate stands on this?
Daniella: I am all for people transitioning if they feel the need, but I totally disagree with the state paying for it. Hypothetically, if a person was born with ________ (pick another scenario), should the state pay for the surgery, medication and counseling for that person? I believe not.
Why should I, or anyone, have their tax dollars pay for your elective surgery?
Truth is not ad hominem.
Val you Rock. You put useless Rubio in his place. It was almost comical.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, America has a faulty perception of crime rates. I think it is partly due to our news media, but Republicans have been pounding the idea that Democrats are “soft” on crime. In fact, the rate of violent crime in the USA peaked in 1991 and has fallen to the lowest level since 1970. Republicans, including Rubio, like to point to the raw numbers of murders in large cities with Democrats as mayors. However, on a per capita basis, murder rates are far higher in Trump-voting red states than Biden-voting blue states. Thus I judge Rubio and other Republicans to be dishonest with respect to crime.
Rubio recently strongly called for FEMA assistance after hurricane Ian. However, Rubio wasn’t present to vote for the recent stopgap bill to fund the government through December that included an $18.8 billion fund for FEMA to help states with natural disasters. Demings, in her ads claims Rubio doesn’t show up for “work”. In this case, it seems to be true.
There is the abortion issue. Personally, I believe in personal and religious freedom. Demings has stated that she is in favor of a woman being able to have an abortion as long as the fetus is not viable. (About 22 weeks for a healthy fetus.) Rubio in an interview on August 26, 2022, said that he wants a complete ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest and human trafficking. Earlier this year, a 10 year old incest/rape victim had to travel from Ohio to Indiana to get an abortion. Extreme abortion bans threaten the health and lives of women who have an atopic pregnancy or a non-viable (dead or dying) fetus. I find Rubio’s position on abortion extreme. I do not want to live in a religious autocracy.
Then there is the border with Mexico. In both February and March 2019, Rubio voted AGAINST Trump’s border emergency and the border spending deal. (Tampa Bay Times)
Vote Repubs you get lies and insurrection. Vote Dems we get hope and and a party that will work for the people. I vote Dem. Will anybody vote like I will. Vote for the Dems and you will not have to worry about insurrection and lying disinformation.
What Else Is New says
Rubio has collected 3.3 million from the NRA. He refuses to vote against assault rifle sales.
Demings has not collected any money from the NRA. She agrees with the 2nd Amendment, but not having assault rifles.
Rubio stumbled and grumbled about abortion rights. Can’t admit he wants no restrictions vis a vis incest or rape.
Demings says abortion rights until fetus is viable.
Rubio had difficulty speaking clearly and intelligently resorting to calling bills and votes by Dems crazy.
Demings intelligently explained her views on each issue.
Rubio is afraid of crowds, large and small. Never shows up for town halls.
Demings is is all about inclusion and openness in debate.
Clear choice. Vote Demings.
This state will likely vote for a white man. We have pervasive racism in this state beginning with the Governor.
Admit it people, a dead horse could run against Rubio, and you would vote for the horse.
or John Fetterman in the PA race. That tells all you need to know about today’s democrat party. Just imagine the conversation between sleepy Joe and Big John.
Justsayin: Just the fact that you use the term “sleepy Joe” tells me exactly what channel you get your messaging from.
It says a lot about Rubio to think a dead horse is just about as good a candidate. On the other hand, it would be quite problematic if you are equating Val Demings to being a horse.
However, a former President said in 2016 “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” Trump remarked at a campaign stop at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.
Most voters vote for their Party’s candidate no matter how bad that candidate is. That is rather sad. Sometimes, as in the Georgia Senate election, there is a candidate who is so bad (Walker) that nobody should be vote them. In our (Florida) Senate race it is not as clear as to which candidate is better. However, I judge Rubio’s ads and the Republican Party ads which support him to be dishonest. I also think two terms (12 years) as a senator is enough.