Florida’s Senate candidates held their first Spanish debate Tuesday night, a frosty affair that nonetheless touched on myriad topics of interest to state and Hispanic voters.
Held before a small studio audience in Miramar, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson hammered his opponent, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, as one who has trouble telling the truth while Mr. Scott repeatedly told voters Mr. Nelson has trouble getting anything done.
The bilingual nature and 90-second time limit – more strictly enforced than is usual in political debates – made for a strained atmosphere, but the moderators kept things moving on issues that ranged from the environment to jobs, and from Latin America to Washington.
In particular, the candidates were asked about Venezuela and Cuba. Mr. Nelson noted more than once he is barred from traveling to Cuba for what he said is his long-time hostility toward the Castro brothers’ Havana regime, and Mr. Scott calling the U.S. rapprochement with Cuba as a “Nelson-Obama appeasement deal.”
Both candidates offered a closing statement in Spanish, with Mr. Nelson telling viewers what an honor he considered public service and concluding, “I need your vote. I want your vote.” In his close, Mr. Scott told the audience how important it was for every family to bring change to Washington.
Mr. Nelson’s strongest moments appeared to come on the environment when he accused Mr. Scott of “systematically dismantling” Florida’s environmental bureaucracy. The reductions led to more water pollutants which, in turn, are to blame for the red tide and algae blooms that have bothered residents, hurt the tourism industry and killed fish.
Mr. Scott looked forceful when he maintained his positions even after Mr. Nelson tried to paint them as extreme. For example, the moderators asked about gun control – an issue that has particular resonance in Florida given the state has seen horrific mass shootings at both the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and a high school near Ft. Lauderdale. Mr. Nelson said “assault rifles” had to be removed from public life and that universal background checks that Mr. Scott’s A+ rating from the NRA makes impossible for him to support.
“I believe in the Second Amendment,” Mr. Scott replied calmly. “I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in the Bill of Rights.”
On the issue of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, the candidates also divided. Mr. Nelson said he would vote against Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and held out hope another FBI background check would uncover something incriminating.
Mr. Nelson said that Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony in response to nearly four-decade-old allegations he tried to strip a girl in high school revealed an anger at odds with desired judicial temperament.
In response, Mr. Scott said he found the raw and emotional testimony of both Mr. Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, compelling but, given the completely uncorroborated nature of the charges, he supports Mr. Kavanaugh on the basis of his voluminous judicial writings and career.
Florida will also elect a new governor in November as Mr. Scott is term-limited, and that race could have an impact on the Senate election. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who won the Democratic primary, is running against former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, and Mr. Gillum’s youth and race could galvanize young voters who may also break for Mr. Nelson.
Whoever replaces him, Mr. Scott said he hopes they continue his economic policies which he claimed in 8 years have eliminated deficits, raised revenues and led to a booming employment market. Mr. Nelson replied he expected Mr. Gillum to win in part because Floridians didn’t see Mr. Scott’s tenure in such rosy terms and were looking for someone to go in a different direction.
“Senator Nelson and Andrew Gillum will kill the economy,” Mr. Scott said bluntly, saying both are bankrupt of economic ideas beyond raising taxes and the regulatory burden.
When the debate turned to health care, Mr. Nelson said Obamacare would be working better if Mr. Scott had agreed to expand the state’s Medicaid rolls for another 800,000 Floridians; Mr. Scott said Obamacare would never work because it was built on lies.
The two exchanged a wooden handshake at the end.