The three Florida candidates for U.S. Senate — Republican Marco Rubio, Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek and no-party candidate Gov. Charlie Crist — debated Wednesday night at the studios of WFTV-9 in Orlando. Each of the candidates interrupted each other frequently and engaged each other, making it a real debate as opposed to simultaneous press conferences.

All of the candidates had different positions on the health care reform law, the stimulus and the Bush tax cuts. Meek defended the totality of the health care reform bill, while Crist liked some parts of it and Rubio called it a “failure.”

On the Bush tax cuts, Rubio wants to make them permanent, Crist would like to extend them for the time being, while Meek advocates putting old tax rates in place for those making over $250,000 a year. Both Crist and Meek pretty much agreed on the stimulus, while Rubio called it a “massive failure.”

There were few knockout punches during the debate, which lasted just under an hour. Regarding Crist’s shifting positions on certain issues, Meek said, “Charlie Crist stands on a wet paper box … because you don’t know where he is.” Rubio responded to Crist’s ad that said Rubio wanted to reform Social Security by cutting benefits and raising the retirement age. Addressing Crist, Rubio said, “One of those seniors, Gov. Crist, that’s out there is my mother. She’s 80 years old this month. She depends on Social Security. It is her primary income and for you to suggest that I would advocate ideas that would somehow harm her is outrageous. It is a blatant untruth. It is a lie.”

And everyone was a winner this debate! The Crist campaign sent out a fundraising email right after the debate, saying the other campaigns “will be working to hide this fact: Charlie Crist won.” The Rubio campaign’s website said, “Rubio was the clear winner.” Meek’s website has the headline, “PUNDITS AGREE: MEEK DELIVERED.”

Nevertheless, Rubio has had about a 10-point lead in most recent polls since early September. And in the quarter that ended last month, he reported $5 million in fundraising, with $5.5 million in cash-on-hand. The other candidates have not released their numbers.

Watch the full debate here on C-Span.

Luke Johnson reports on Florid for The American Independent.

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