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Florida’s Three-Way Senate Scramble

Each of the three major candidates running for the Senate from Florida seeks to group his two opponents into a single category. Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, the Republican, says he is running against opportunistic politicians who simply see the Senate as the next step on their career ladder. Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democrat, tries to paint his opponents as right-wing conservatives. And Gov. Charlie Crist, the independent, is blasting his two opponents as ethically challenged and unfit to serve in the Senate.

We recently visited with all three candidates in Florida and chatted about the dynamics at play in the race.

On Sunday, a Mason-Dixon poll showed Rubio with a strong lead at 40 percent, Crist’s numbers on the decline at 28 percent and Meek on the rise at 23 percent.

Crist has been on the airwaves with tough-hitting negative ads, a clear signal his campaign’s internal polling is likely showing a similar trajectory for his support as the public polling.

With a large and actively voting senior citizen population, it is no surprise that Social Security is never far from the surface.

Meek is fond of reminding voters that he is the only candidate in the race who can say he has always been opposed to private accounts for any Social Security benefits. Crist was courting elderly Democratic voters over the weekend in Boca Raton and Tamarac where he was also touting his endorsement by the former Democratic Congressman from those areas, Rep. Robert Wexler. And he attempted to make Social Security a calling card for his candidacy.

The governor pitched himself as the only candidate in the race willing to protect Social Security at all costs. He points to Rubio’s position of looking at possibly raising the retirement age for young workers while leaving it secure for current retirees and those who are nearing retirement age. Rubio has backed off his previous support of private accounts for some Social Security benefits. Crist also notes Meek’s support for a commission to take a look at all the issues regarding Social Security solvency and suggests commissions always end up reducing benefits or raising the retirement age.

But Crist’s proposal of shoring up Social Security is not likely to win over any of his former Republican colleagues. He suggests comprehensive immigration reform can provide the answer by providing a path to citizenship for the 11-14 million illegal immigrants in the country and getting them to pay fully into the system.

Be sure to check out the video above to see the candidates talking about their opponents, Social Security, the impact of the tea party, and the divide within the Republican Party on display this year, perhaps most acutely in Florida when Crist bolted from the GOP in the face of sure defeat and chose to run as an independent.

And as for that big debate in Washington about the Bush-era tax cuts, watch Meek open the door to compromise on extending some of the tax cuts for the 3-4 percent of the upper income earners who have small businesses that would be significantly adversely impacted in this economy. Unlike House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, Meek does not draw a firm line in the sand by refusing consideration of any extension for anyone earning over $250,000 per year.

“When it comes down to the small percentage, what we understand, 3 to 4 percent of those tax cuts actually will affect small businesses, yes, I’m open to looking at those tax cuts that are creating jobs, not tax cuts that are just saying, ‘well, we’re just going to pound on wealth’ when we can’t afford it,” Meek said.

“When you look at it from that standpoint, 2 to 3 to 4 percent within that top 2 percent that’s creating jobs, yes, I’d be open to looking at that,” he added.

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