Crist-Rubio Smackdown, Round 4

Brandon Kruse/The Palm Beach Post

The fourth debate in Florida’s contentious US Senate race turned ugly last night, as independent Charlie Crist took some nasty swipes at the race’s frontrunner, Republican Marco Rubio, a tea party favorite. Branding his opponent an “extreme right-wing candidate,” Crist even accused Rubio, the former state house speaker, of flip-flopping on a piece of insurance legislation after a chiropractor who’d been lobbying Rubio bought the lawmaker’s Miami house. Rubio replied, “In front of a live audience in this state, [Crist] just launched a vicious personal attack on me based on a falsehood.”

So it went last night, with Crist, Rubio, and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek trading blows throughout the typically divisive debate. For months, Rubio has comfortably led the three-way race, boasting an 11-point lead, according to a recent Rasmussen Poll.

Here’s more from the Miami Herald and the St. Pete Times:

The other tense moment of the debate came when Meek ripped Crist for flip-flopping on offshore oil drilling, which the Miami congressman has consistently opposed expanding.

“You were there with Sarah Palin a couple years ago saying, ‘Drill baby drill,'” Meek charged.

“I never said ‘Drill baby drill,” Crist said.

“You were clapping,” Meek retorted, to which Crist said, “I was there to support my friend John McCain.”

Crist fended off accusations from both Meek and Rubio that he had left the Republican party and modulated his positions simply to boost his poll ratings.

“I’m a guy who believes in common sense, not nonsense,” Crist said. “I’m running against an extreme right wing candidate who believes in taking rights away from women, punishing seniors, and punishing teachers.”

Crist’s chances of defeating Rubio hinge almost entirely on peeling away more of Meek’s Democratic and moderate supporters. There have even been rumblings of Meek dropping out of the race to boost Crist’s chances. Meek, however, has consistently dismissed the rumors, and this late in the game, the odds are slim he’ll abandon his candidacy.