MIAMI — Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings went on the attack Tuesday in her first debate against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, castigating him as a serial liar, while Rubio criticized her for supporting President Joe Biden's economic agenda. Each accused the other of being an extremist on abortion.
Rubio, a two-term senator, and Demings, a three-term congresswoman and former Orlando police chief, faced questions on topics including inflation, voting rights, gun violence, immigration and foreign policy.
When asked to explain his position on abortion, Rubio skirted a question on whether he would support a federal abortion ban with no exceptions and instead called Demings' position extreme because she would not say what limits on abortion she would support.
"Every bill I have ever sponsored on abortion and every bill I've ever voted for has exceptions," Rubio said.
"What we know is that the senator supports no exceptions," Demings responded. "He can make his mouth say anything today. He is good at that, by the way. What day is it and what is Marco Rubio saying?"
Following the Supreme Court's ruling in June that overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, Rubio has expressed his personal opposition to abortion in all cases while saying he'd back abortion-restricting statutes that include exceptions. Demings supports abortion access at least until fetal viability and said physicians should be the ones to determine.
Rubio stands to benefit from the widening voter registration advantage that Republicans hold over Democrats in the increasingly conservative state. The rightward shift will likely expand in areas such as Miami-Dade County, home to Rubio.
Demings has criticized Rubio for his attendance record in the Senate, while the senator has called Demings a "rubber stamp" for the Biden agenda, as the president contends with inflation pressures and rising gas prices.
But on Tuesday, Rubio also attacked Demings for not passing legislation in Washington, saying all she had done was get two post offices named for police officers who died in the line of duty. Demings angrily rejected his characterization.
"It's embarrassing that you think that honoring a person who was a hero by naming a federal building after them is nothing," she said.
Demings repeatedly accused Rubio of distorting her record.
"I am really disappointed in you because I think there was a time when you did not lie in order to win," she said.