Nelson, Mack bicker at debate
The sole debate between Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, Congressman Connie Mack, turned into a sharp and squabbling affair almost from the start and rarely let up.
The back-and-forth, held Wednesday evening at Nova Southeastern University, took on a tough tone as soon as Mack began his opening statement by highlighting Nelson’s vote for President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul and what Mack said were 150 votes for tax increases — a figure that’s been disputed by independent fact-checkers.
Nelson responded by starting out his evening calling his opponent a liar.
“I’m looking forward to pointing out what the truth is, because everything that the congressman has just said is not true,” he said.
The discussion largely followed those outlines for the next hour.
“I’m not going to let you get away with this,” Nelson said after Mack accused him of hacking away at Medicare Advantage, which allows private insurers to cover some Medicare patients.
“You’ve just painted this picture that doesn’t exist,” Mack retorted after Nelson said the economy was slowly improving. “I’m not sure which Florida you’re talking about.”
Mack tore into Nelson for his support of “Obamacare” — arguing it constitutes a raid on Medicare — and taxes. Mack repeatedly said the senator had voted with Obama 98 percent of the time.
“Is that the only line that you have memorized?” Nelson shot back once, drawing laughter from the crowd.
But Nelson also threw out his own share of barbs, citing Mack’s votes on women’s issues and the congressman’s support of the Ryan plan to overhaul Medicare by essentially turning it into a voucher program. Nelson also hammered Mack for his attendance.
“And when you show up, it’s even worse because you try to take out Medicare and Social Security,” Nelson said.
Mack swept the charges aside, repeatedly asserting that Nelson was exaggerating or lying about Mack’s voting.
“Senator, you need to do a better job of explaining your own record, because you’re really messing up my record,” he said. “Apparently, you’re looking at somebody else.”
Little changed after the debate, with Nelson telling reporters that he saw a profound difference between the congressman’s father, a Republican senator who worked with Democrats, and the son.
“It’s extremism in the raw, and fortunately that’s not where Florida is,” Nelson said.
Mack bristled at the extremism charge, even when reporters asked him about it without noting the barb about the elder Mack.
“I think this is an example of a desperate candidate who is willing to say and do anything to try to keep his job,” the younger Mack said.
Supporters of Nelson and Mack each said the other candidate had started the attacks and that their preferred candidate was simply trying to keep up.
“Connie Mack is well behind in the polls, so he obviously had to swing for the fences,” said former Democratic state Sen. Dan Gelber. “And he obviously swung wildly, and I believe in total disregard for the truth. And that set the tone.”
What was less certain was whether the evening would have any effect on voters, perhaps turning them off with the negativity.
“That’s modern politics,” said outgoing Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Merritt Island).