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Last night in Orlando they all met in a debate. NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: But a lot happened between then and now. Former State House Speaker Marco Rubio's campaign caught fire with Republican activists and the Tea Party. Crist dropped out of the Republican primary and the Republican Party. In last night's debate, he continued to try to walk a narrow path - that of a moderate with no party affiliation.
CHARLIE CRIST: It's abundantly clear to me that there's an extreme right faction in the Republican Party. And I think that I'm the only candidate who can both win in November and crash that Tea Party in Washington.
ALLEN: Rubio fired back last night, saying Crist was twisting the facts. Rubio said his proposal to raise the retirement age to 70 wouldn't affect anyone currently over 55.
MARCO RUBIO: You know, one of those seniors, Governor Crist, that's out there is my mother. She's 80 years old this month. She depends on Social Security. It is her primary source of income. And for you to suggest that I would somehow advocate ideas that would harm her is outrageous, and a blatant untruth.
ALLEN: Up to now, his campaign mostly focused its fire on Crist, reminding voters there's only one real Democrat in the race. But in last night's debate, Meek took aim at Rubio.
KENDRICK MEEK: I think that you want to be elected to move a national ideology for the conservative right. I'm not on board, on board that train. I'm on board the train of tying to resolve the issues here in Florida.
ALLEN: But in the lively debate, moderated by ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Crist worked to portray himself as the calm, clear voice.
(SOUNDBITE OF OVERLAPPING VOICES)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I've got to let Governor Crist, I've got to let Governor Crist get a rebuttal on the stimulus and then we have to move on.
CRIST: Thank you very much. What you've just witnessed is the problem and the reason I'm running as an independent. These two guys are going at each other because one's the Republican right, one's the Democratic left. What's true is there are good things that both parties can present to the future of our country.
ALLEN: Needless to say, Rubio's position is a bit less nuanced.
RUBIO: I think this health care bill's a disaster. Just in the last two weeks, we've learned the following things. These child-only policies are being dropped. We've learned that low-wage part-time workers are now going to lose their coverage. We've learned that seniors are starting to get dropped out of Medicare Advantage. We've learned the premiums are going to go up. In fact, this bill has broken every promise that was made when Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist supported it.
ALLEN: Meek accused both Rubio and Crist of playing political games with an issue that affects many Floridians deeply. With some passion, he said that while they were talking about rolling back parts of the plan, 3,500 Floridians lose healthcare each week.
MEEK: When you have a family member in the hospital, looking up at a popcorn ceiling, and they're sick, and the insurance company cut their coverage, then you need a United States senator that's going to stand in the gap.
ALLEN: Greg Allen, NPR news, Miami.
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