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Crist, Meek Pile on Frontrunner Rubio in Florida Senate Debate

The two underdog candidates in Florida’s Senate race teamed up during a debate Sunday to try to knock down the frontrunner in the contest, Republican Marco Rubio.

Gov. Charlie Crist, second in the polls by a wide margin, used the forum, aired on CNN’s “State of the Union” and held at the University of South Florida, to reinforce his independent label. He said that he was “perhaps the only one at this table” who both supported the 2009 stimulus bill that pumped money into Florida’s troubled economy and who now opposes the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts.

“I’m a fiscal conservative and a social moderate,” said Crist, who decided to seek the seat as an independent in April after it appeared he could not beat Rubio in the GOP primary.

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D), the third candidate in the Senate chase, slammed Rubio’s approach to improving the state’s fiscal health as “not solutions, but ideology.”

Rubio all but ignored the hits and stayed focused on an economic message, insisting that allowing the tax cuts to expire was tantamount to a tax increase that would hobble economic growth.

“It’s a bad time to raise taxes on anybody,” he said. “The only way to improve the economy is by growing the economy and fiscal constraint, and you have to do both.”

Throughout the debate, Crist repeatedly highlighted his moderate stance and blasted Washington partisanship. He tried to knock Rubio off his focus on employment and the economy and veer the discussion into social issues, on which he thinks Rubio is vulnerable.

“Listen, women … he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Crist said. “He’s against stem cell research. These are extreme views that I’m not comfortable with.”

But it was Meek who took the bait. He jumped on Crist’s complaint that he had to leave the Republican Party because it was too far right. He left “because he couldn’t beat Marco Rubio,” Meek said.

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