4 takeaways from the Rubio-Demings debate in Florida

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Val Demings, met on Tuesday for the only debate in the Florida Senate race, a fast-paced and feisty face-off that ran through a series of major issues affecting country and state.

Mr. Rubio, who appeared in a dozen debates as the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, was polite and quick. Taking a more evocative approach, Ms Demings sought to portray him as heartless, out of touch with the human impact of his policies on issues such as abortion and guns.

Still, she may not have had the kind of viral moment needed to shift the trajectory of the race in her favor. For months, polls have shown Mr. Rubio has a lead in Florida, a perennial battleground state but one that has shifted to the right.

Here are four takeaways:

The candidates largely followed their party’s talking points on abortion rights, with each aiming to portray the other as extreme. Ms Demings accused Mr Rubio of supporting abortion restrictions without exceptions for rape, incest and life-threatening medical conditions.

“No, senator, I don’t think it’s okay for a 10-year-old girl to be raped and have to carry the seed of her rapist,” she said. “No, I don’t think it’s okay for you to make decisions for women and girls as a senator. I think those decisions are made between the woman, her family, her doctor and her faith.

Mr. Rubio rejected these attacks. While calling himself ‘100% pro-life’ and indicating that he personally supports strict abortion laws, he dismissed the issue as moot, saying bans without exceptions could not be passed because they are lacking. of popular support.

For his part, Mr. Rubio pressured Ms. Demings to name a clear weekly limit on the procedure, falsely accusing her of supporting abortion “on demand, for any reason, at any time.” , including the time before birth”. She responded that she supports abortion until viability – the standard set by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, generally understood to be around 24 weeks.

Part of the debate focused on an issue quite specific to Florida: a plummeting property insurance market. Florida homeowners pay the highest premiums in the country, nearly three times the national average, according to the Insurance Information Institute. So far, six property insurance companies in Florida have been declared insolvent and others are canceling or not renewing their policies.

Ms. Demings accused Mr. Rubio of doing nothing about the issue as a member of the State House, saying she had asked the governor to call a special session to deal with the crisis.

Mr. Rubio countered that there was a special session when he was a speaker in 2007. Legislation passed that year expanded the offerings and reduced the rates of the state’s insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance. Mr Rubio blamed former Governor Charlie Crist, who is seeking another term as a Democratic candidate, for the sharp rise in rates since then.

One of the most heated exchanges took place when the moderator asked if the candidates would support a federal ban on the sale of assault weapons to those under 21 – an idea that Mr. Rubio dismissed as unnecessary, pointing out that a 15-year-old was charged in a recent shooting in Raleigh, North Carolina

“Where did he find the weapon?” He didn’t get it from a gun show. He certainly didn’t buy it. He is 15 years old,” Mr. Rubio said. Instead, he promoted a “red flag” bill he sponsored to allow law enforcement authorities to confiscate guns if a person shows warning signs of violence – while denouncing as “crazy” a red flag provision in the bipartisan gun law that Congress passed this year. .

He claimed that this provision would allow “your colleague who is angry with you” to “go to a judge and take your guns”.

Ms. Demings responded with open anger, accusing Mr. Rubio of betraying the victims of Florida massacres like the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and the Parkland shootings, and of making promises to victims’ families that he “had no intention of holding on”.

She continued, “How long are you going to watch people get shot in first grade, fourth grade, high school, college, church, synagogue, grocery store, movie theater, center commercial and in a nightclub, doing nothing?”

Mr. Rubio gave more detailed answers than Ms. Demings to questions about China and how the United States should react if Russia used tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine or attacked a NATO ally.

Ms Demings repeatedly said the United States must hold Russia and China “accountable”, but gave no examples of what that might entail. At one point, she said that if China tries to take over Taiwan, “there has to be a response”, and added that she and her House Intelligence Committee colleagues were discussing the issue.

Mr. Rubio also, to some extent, deferred to other decision makers; he said, for example, that the response to an attack on a NATO member should be a joint decision of the alliance. He also tossed a mocking line about transgender people, suggesting the Pentagon should focus on military superiority rather than “proper use of pronouns.”

But her answers contained a level of detail that Ms. Demings’s lacked. Among other things, he discussed the range of ways in which Russia could step up in Ukraine – short-range nuclear missiles and a conventional attack on an airport in Poland were two possibilities he mentioned – and called for efforts to reduce reliance on Chinese manufacturers and bolster the US military. capacity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Towards the end of the debate, Ms Demings accused him of faking foreign policy expertise, saying: “Look, the senator can play national security expert all he wants.”

Mr. Rubio replied, to applause: “I don’t know what she means by playing the national security expert. I’m the vice chairman of the intelligence committee and I was the past chairman of it, so that’s actually my job.