Oct 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Rubio and Demings tackle abortion and guns in first and only debate

Photo illustration of Val Demings, tinted blue, and Marco Rubio, tinted red, separated by a white halftone divider.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images and Win McNamee/Getty Images

Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and his Democratic challenger Rep. Val Demings fired off their positions on abortion, voting access and gun control during a heated debate Tuesday night.

Why it matters: Demings and Rubio's debate — their first and only of Florida's U.S. Senate race — marks one of the last chances for candidates to sway voters less than three weeks before the Nov. 8 midterms.

  • Rubio has led Demings in polls, with recent polling from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy putting the incumbent at 47% to Demings' 41%.
  • Meanwhile, Demings has outraised Rubio in campaign contributions, but Rubio has more cash on hand, according to the latest filing.

Driving the news: Both Rubio, a two-term senator, and Demings, Orlando's former police chief who's served three terms in Congress, were on the attack Tuesday night. They took shots at one another on their records in office and personal beliefs.

  • At one point, Demings accused Rubio of "lying, cheating and trying to steal."
  • Rubio said multiple times that Demings had "never passed a piece of legislation into law."

On abortion: Rubio labeled Demings an "extremist" on abortion and said she would support abortions without any restrictions. Demings said she supports abortion access up until fetus "viability" but did not specify what restrictions she would support.

  • Demings slammed Rubio for his past statements that abortion bans should not include exceptions for rape or incest, although Rubio noted the national 15-week abortion ban he is currently co-sponsoring does contain the exceptions because it would not pass without them.

On gun control: Demings and Rubio disagreed on how to address mass shootings, with Rubio saying banning young people from buying AR-style rifles won't work. He said the solution is to identify potential threats and "stop them before they act."

On voting rights: Rubio said he opposes a federal law to protect voting rights, saying "it's never been easier to vote" in Florida and that those decisions should be left up to states.

  • Demings shot back, citing Gov. Ron DeSantis' new election law police force and restrictions to vote-by-mail drop boxes.
  • "If it's so perfect, why the adjustments? We need to hold states accountable to make sure every person ... has the precious right to cast their vote."
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