DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Charlie Crist tried to distance himself from President Barack Obama in a debate Tuesday after months of reaching out to Democrats in his independent bid for Senate, and Republican Marco Rubio made a case against the extremist tag his opponents are giving him.
Crist, as he has in the last two Senate debates, attacked Rubio as far right because of the Republican's position against abortion rights and his support for a tough Arizona immigration law. Rubio has in past debates hammered at the point that Crist — a lifelong Republican until going independent in April — is a political opportunist. He toned it down in the fourth clash to instead try to debunk the extremist label.
"The things I believe in are pretty simple to understand," Rubio said. "I believe that the economy doesn't grow because of politicians, it grows because of people that start businesses or expand existing businesses. I believe our government cannot continue to spend more money than it takes in. And I believe the world is a safer and better place when America is the strongest country in the world."
Exchanges were more heated between Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek and Crist, who are struggling to make up ground against Rubio with voters. Crist was running as a Republican until he fell far behind Rubio in the polls. He filed as an independent candidate just before the deadline to make the ballot and later changed his voter registration so he had ties to neither major party.
Crist, who lost much of his Republican support by appearing with Obama at a rally to push for the passage of the $787 billion stimulus, referred a couple of times to "Obamacare" as a slight to the health care overhaul the president signed into law.
"Obamacare was off the charts, was wrong. It taxed too much, has mandates that are probably unconstitutional, and it's not the way to go. And it was rammed through," said Crist, who has previously said both that he would support a repeal of the law and that he would seek to fix, but not repeal it, because it has some good things.
And in another attempt to put a gap between himself and the president, Crist also criticized Obama for not following through on his promise of working with both parties.
"The president started out originally saying I'm going to work across the aisle — 'I'm going to reach across the aisle and make sure that we get everybody involved in the solutions that matter to the people of America,'" Crist said. "It hasn't happened. It needs to happen."
Meek seemed incredulous that Crist would use the strategy of criticizing Obama. Meek has been frustrated that Crist is having some success in his overt outreach to Democratic voters.
"It really is mind boggling to me how, governor, you can stand there and start throwing out accusations saying, 'Oh Obamacare!'" Meek said. He also made a reference to Crist cozying up to the president when it helped him, like the much photographed walk on the beach Crist and Obama had during the Gulf oil spill.
"I'm just shocked to hear now the new lingo from the governor talking about Obamacare. I wonder if he said that to the president when he was walking with him on the beach," Meek said.
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