Tensions flared as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio vowed to serve a full six-year term if re-elected while U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy attacked him for already having “one foot out the door” at the candidates’ first Senate debate in Orlando.
Within minutes of the hourlong debate Monday night, the Fairwinds Alumni Center became home to an unremittingly hostile argument as Murphy and Rubio attacked one another for endorsing their party’s presidential nominee.
The Democratic challenger praised Hillary Clinton as someone who will “hit the ground running on day one” and denounced Donald Trump as a viable candidate.
“I don’t understand how Senator Rubio can look himself in the mirror and still stand by Donald Trump’s side after everything that has come out about him,” said Murphy, referencing the 2005 Trump tape released almost two weeks ago.
Rubio, who condemned Trump’s vulgar comments about women while continuing to support him for president, retorted by saying that although both candidates are terribly flawed, he cannot stand behind someone with a 30-year record of scandal.
“I don’t trust either one of them,” Rubio said. “The job of a U.S. senator is not to blindly trust the president because they happen to be from your own party … Of the two of us on this stage tonight, there is only one person who when they go to the Senate will stand up to the next president of the United States, and that is me.”
Murphy then turned to Rubio and asked “If you can’t stand up to Donald Trump as a candidate, how in the world can you stand up to him as president of the United States? Think about what he’s done. Think about how unqualified he is.”
When asked about the Pulse massacre, Murphy referred to Rubio as one of the most anti-gay senators in the United States and tore into his opponent’s gun reform bill, calling it nothing more than a “sham” because of the unobtainable level of proof required to stop a gun purchase.
The bill states that if a person investigated for terror within the last decade attempts to buy a gun, the sale will be suspended and the FBI will be notified to begin an investigation. If the FBI finds the person guilty of terrorist activity, they will immediately be arrested.
“If the FBI knew that they were terrorists, they’d already be in jail,” Murphy said. “Your bill does nothing.”
Rubio staunchly defended his bill’s chance of passing Congress and deemed Murphy’s attempt to “politicize a horrible tragedy for our country” as shameful.
Outside the packed Alumni Center, throngs of UCF students donning pro-Murphy and pro-Rubio signs created a cacophony of chants, some of which featured slogans such as “Don’t elect him, he’s defective” and “Love not hate.” Shouts of Rubio and Murphy’s names rang out over the crowd.
Konstantine Grigoras, a social science education major, waved a red and white sign with the words “Rubio and Trump: Bigot Ticket.” The 22-year-old senior said he is hopeful that others will realize how important it is for a candidate to be guided by principle and not political gain.
“The fact that Rubio’s even willing to remotely sympathize with a fascist like Trump — who the Republicans nominated — shows us the dire situation that we’re in,” Grigoras said. “He’s supporting Trump for political expediency, and that says a lot about his character.”
Those more to the right, like Stetson University sophomore Ian Anderson, 20, were clad in blue Rubio memorabilia. The sports business major said since his Republican values align with Rubio’s, he will do everything in his power to ensure his re-election.
“It’s important for my voice be heard,” Anderson said. “I believe that you should have to earn everything and stuff shouldn’t just be handed to you. That’s what Rubio stands for.”
UCF Professor Hary Weger, whose research interests include nonverbal communication in televised debates, said both Murphy and Rubio failed to address issues that college students, most of whom were steadfast supporters of Bernie Sanders, are passionate about.
“There was nothing about student loans, affordable tuition or helping to create jobs, especially for people who are just coming into the job market,” Weger said.
Nevertheless, House 49 District candidate and UCF alumnus Carlos Guillermo Smith said that students should take note of Murphy’s success because his views are connected to what college students care about, making UCF “the perfect place” to host the debate.
“Many students support LGBT equality — Marco Rubio does not,” Guillermo Smith said. “Many students support a woman’s right to choose — Marco Rubio does not. Many students support being able to access affordable college education — Marco Rubio does not.”
The next scheduled debate between Rubio and Murphy will be held on Oct. 26 in Fort Lauderdale. Univision will sponsor the third debate, but the location and date have not been released.