DAVIE, Fla. -- Contentious — at times personal — incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV drew clear distinctions on positions, policies and records during their first and only scheduled debate in the race for U.S. Senate on Wednesday.
Mack, the southwest Florida Republican who has tied Nelson, a Democrat, to President Barack Obama as a "lockstep liberal," continued the line of attack during the 60-minute debate on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
"Senator, I agree with you, it was unconscionable," Mack said about Nelson's support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Nelson replied, "I'm not going to let you get away with this."
The economy, foreign policy and national security dominated much of the debate, but the two sparred early over health care reform.
"You talk a good game," Mack said to Nelson. "You can successfully offer all the amendments you want. It didn't pass," Mack said, referring to an amendment Nelson said would protect Medicare for Florida seniors.
"Seven hundred and sixteen billion was, in fact, savings that extended the life of Medicare for eight years," Nelson told Mack, countering Mack's argument that Nelson had gutted Medicare to pay for health care reform.
The spirited exchange continued when the moderator moved to sequestration — the automatic domestic and defense spending cuts Republicans and Democrats agreed to when a bipartisan Congressional committee was unable to reach an agreement on the budget.
"I didn't vote for sequestration," Mack said. "It was a dumb idea."
Nelson replied, "What you voted against a year ago, was you were going to let this country go into default."
The control of Congress in the balance, recent polls have shown Mack had gained ground on Nelson — closing what had been a double digit lead by the incumbent to a one- to five-point gap.
Story updated to clarify debate took place Wednesday