Charlie Crist won’t stand up to President Obama. Marco Rubio isn’t the real deal.
In their first debate of the election — this one broadcast on Fox News Sunday — the two Republican candidates for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat cast their opponents in the same familiar themes revolving around the one issue that has defined the race: Crist’s support for Obama’s stimulus package.
Rubio, the former state house speaker whose candidacy was once seen as a long-shot before conservatives and Tea Partiers rallied behind him, blasted Crist for supporting the bill that Democrats argued would reinvigorate the economy and create jobs but that Republicans see as another example of reckless government spending. The darling of Tea Partiers nationwide used that as evidence that Crist will not “stand up” to the president.
“People are looking for leaders that will go to Washington DC and stand up to this agenda and offer a clear alternative,” Rubio said. “And I‘ve chosen to run for the United States Senate in Florida because in Florida there’s no other candidate we can count on to do that.”
Crist, the governor of Florida, argued that he voted for the stimulus bill to “put people beyond politics.” He pointed to reports of Rubio’s questionable finances to say his opponent is a political opportunist who is less about serving the people and more about enjoying the perks that comes along with being elected to office.
“That’s not what people want. They want people that are not there to enrich themselves, but who are there to enrich the lives of their fellow Floridians,” Crist said of Rubio, pointing to reports that Rubio used a political action committee to pay for haircuts and other personal expenses. Rubio dismissed the charges.
Crist’s support for the stimulus package re-appeared throughout the debate, as Rubio continued to hammer the governor on it. “I will stand up to that agenda. Everyone knows that you won’t stand up to the Obama agenda because just a year ago, you were campaigning for it,” Rubio said.
Moderator Chris Wallace asked Crist if he would’ve voted for the stimulus had he been a Republican senator. “Yeah, that’s pretty clear,” Crist responded. “I thought that was the right thing to do at the time.”
Wallace elicited a pledge from Crist that he won’t run against Rubio as an independent if he loses the primary. But in what was perhaps a peculiar question for Crist — who polls show to be fighting an dramatically uphill battle — Wallace asked if he would serve out a full term or run for president in 2012 if elected, something Crist flatly ruled out.
WATCH THE DEBATE