Val Demings and Marco Rubio Take Jabs At Each Other In Uneasy Florida Senate Debate

Abortion, gun rights and several other topics were ammunition for each side in what’s turned out to be a contentious race.

The single debate between candidates Val Demings and Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate race in Florida, turned at times into a sparring match as the contest heads into its final weeks in an election of which the outcome could determine Democratic or Republican control of the Senate.

While two-term GOP incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio maintained his position on abortion, calling himself “100 percent pro-life,” Democratic Rep. Val Demings accused him of supporting a complete ban even in the case of rape or incest.

“No, senator, I don’t think it’s OK for a 10-year-old girl to be raped and have to carry the seed of her rapist,” said Demings, herself a three-term U.S. House member. “No, I don’t think it’s OK for you to make decisions for women and girls as a senator. I think those decisions are made between the woman, her family, her doctor and her faith.”

But Rubio countered: "Every bill I have ever sponsored on abortion and every bill I've ever voted for has exceptions."

Demings accused Rubio of attempting to gut medicare and “turn it into an underfunded voucher program,” and also of “giving the biggest tax break to the richest of the rich and said you’d pay for it with cuts to social security and medicare.”

Rubio countered, speaking to Demings’ record, “there is not a single federal law on the books that she sponsored and got passed.” He said that one of the pieces of legislation he got passed was a double child tax credit. “So I took on my own party, The Wall Street Journal and even corporate interests so I’m very proud of my record.”

RELATED: Tense Debate Between Abrams, Kemp Shows Continued Political Conflict in Georgia Gubernatorial Election

Gun control was also a huge issue in the debate, given the mass shootings at Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 and the Pulse nightclub in 2016. The topic resulted in one of the most tense moments of the evening. Demings said that Rubio was weak on doing enough to protect innocent people from assaults by gunmen determined to kill. But Rubio doubled down on his position, invoking legislation he backed after the Parkland shooting and individual gun rights.

“One of the first things I did when I got back to Washington is I sponsored a bipartisan red flag law, styled after Florida, not the crazy one they just passed, a real red flag law that would allow the police department to go before a judge and remove your guns if they can prove that you are a danger,” Rubio explained to moderator Todd McDermott, an anchor at WPBF in West Palm Beach. “The one they passed allows some co-worker who doesn’t like you to go to some liberal judge and take away your Second Amendment rights.”

Sternly, Demings, a former police chief whose district includes the location of the Pulse nightclub, responded: “The families that are vIctims of gun violence just heard that and they’re asking themselves, ‘what in the hell did he just say?’ Senator, you used the Pulse nightclub shooting as your inspiration to run again…and yet you’ve done nothing to help address gun violence and get dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.”

She said Florida passed legislation raising the age of legal gun ownership and red flag laws that have been used more than 7,000 times. “Our primary responsibility is the safety of Floridians and 24 years in elected office and you have not yet risen to that occasion and then when asked about it, you say something that makes no sense.”

Demings has raised more money than Rubio with fundraising totaling more than $65 million, according to Federal Election Commission figures, compared to Rubio’s $44 million in funds. But polling by RealClearPolitics shows Rubio with a nearly five-point edge over Demings. The state has also supported Republicans in recent history, backing Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 and electing Ron DeSantis as governor in 2019. DeSantis is facing a challenge from former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Early voting in Florida begins on Monday (Oct. 24).

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking subscribe, I agree to receive newsletters, marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers), and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. For more information about our data practices, consult our Privacy Policy.