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Murphy & Rubio Square Off In First Florida Senate Race Debate


Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dominated much of the first U.S. Senate debate Monday night between Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy.

When asked whether he stands by Trump, Rubio said voters face two less than ideal candidates.

“I’m not arguing that this is a race between Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. These are two deeply flawed candidates," said Rubio. "Which is why it’s so important, which I have already said repeatedly, that we have a candidate for the U.S. Senate who will stand up to these people. In this election the only one that’s stood up to both candidates is me.”

Murphy defended Clinton, saying she can be trusted with the nation’s nuclear code.

The debate then turned to gun control.

Rubio said anyone investigated for terror should not be able to buy a gun and should be questioned by the FBI. Murphy said Congress should join families of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and find solutions to stem gun violence.

“And that’s why I believe that we must close the terrorist loophole that we must expand background checks to ensure that these weapons aren’t getting in the wrong hands," said Murphy. "We should be investing more in mental health. Right? And these are things that are supported by the vast majority of Americans, the vast majority of gun owners.”

After Murphy pressed Rubio whether he’d abandon his senate office for another presidential bid, Rubio said if elected he would be Florida’s senator for the next six years.

Expectations For Rubio And Murphy

The debate gave Murphy and Rubio a chance to shine in a race that’s been largely overshadowed by the presidential contest.

Both Murphy and Rubio are tied to the presidential candidates, said University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus. In this debate, she said Murphy has to woo voters turned off by Hillary Clinton while also introducing himself to voters outside south Florida.

“So it’s very, very important that he has a breakout moment tonight that really makes people want to know more about him and look at his platform,” said MacManus.

Rubio, she said, has to straddle the line between those for and against Donald Trump. “He has to keep his name out there as someone independent from Trump, tough to do when you’re a republican at the moment,” MacManus said, “and obviously has to get people to split-ticket vote as well.”

Rubio has lead Murphy in the polls for much of the senate race. But MacManus said debates in Florida have a history of moving poll numbers.