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Iraq veteran says Marco Rubio insulted Kurdish forces in Senate debate

While discussing U.S. policy in Syria during the Senate debate between Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy in Davie on Wednesday night, Rubio one-upped his Democratic opponent by chiding him for saying that the Kurdish resistance fighters known as the Peshmerga were fighting in Iraq, not Syria. Now a Democratic Representative and Iraq veteran is calling on Rubio to apologize for “using these brave soldiers as a punchline.”

“As a veteran of the war in Iraq, I know exactly what kind of sacrifice the Kurdish forces are making right now in the fight to recapture Mosul in Iraq,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat, in a statement released by the Murphy campaign after the debate. “The Peshmerga are some of the world’s bravest and most elite warriors. They have been some of our strongest allies in the multidimensional regional battle to defeat ISIS, a conflict that recognizes no national borders. Patrick was right — the Kurdish fighters are key in the fight against ISIS.”

The remark occurred when the Miami Herald’s Patricia Mazzei asked about how the candidates would deal with the more than five-year conflict in Syria. Rubio said currently it was important to ensure the war-torn nation not become a safe haven for terrorists.

Murphy said it was crucial to get rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and that meant maintaining alliances with various actors in the Middle East.

Rubio countered by saying he wasn’t sure what alliances Murphy was referring to, “The one with the Kurds? The Syrian Kurds or the Turks? This is the situation this president has put us in.”

“It is important to note how many factions are in Syria right now,” responded Murphy. “Whether it’s the Kurds or the Peshmerga, Iraq, Hezbollah, Russia, the moderate rebel forces that we have tried to arm in many ways, and it’s important to talk about them.” He then pivoted towards denouncing Rubio for supporting Donald Trump, who he said wants to “tear up those alliances.”

The moderator indicated that the exchange was spent, but Rubio said he needed to get in a response.

“Congressman there are no Peshmerga in Syria. The Peshmerga are Iraqi,” Rubio said.

Murphy interjected, saying, “Yes, and they are helping us fight.”

“In Iraq, not in Syria,” Rubio responded. “The Syrian Kurds, in fact, don’t get along with the Iraqi Kurds which is adding more complexity to the region.”

In fact, there are reports Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have entered into the fighting in Syria.

Al-Jazeera reported in July that some Peshmerga soldiers held back from the front line in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq have crossed the border into Syria to fight with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, where soldiers can move from unit to unit with fewer restrictions.

The Murphy camp also provided a link to a CNN story from 2014 reporting of Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga fighters arriving in the besieged northern Syrian city of Kobani. And they trotted out Rep. Gallego, who was in the hall watching and supporting Murphy during the debate, to rebut Rubio’s comment.

“Tonight, Marco Rubio tried to use these brave soldiers as a punch line,” Gallego said Wednesday night. “He should apologize to our allies as they are fighting and dying on the battlefield right now. If Marco Rubio actually showed up to work at the Senate, he would know better than to insult the people fighting this war.”

The Rubio campaign maintains the Peshmerga are not the primary Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

“Marco met with Iraqi Kurds earlier this year in Erbil,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, a Rubio spokeswoman, on Thursday. “The Peshmerga, who are Iraqi Kurds, have been fantastic allies in the fight against ISIL in Iraq. They are not the primary Kurdish force fighting ISIL in Syria. Patrick Murphy claims to be a national security expert but yet again appears to be embellishing his resume.”

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Marco Rubio, Patrick Murphy spar over policy, fall back on old attacks

Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy tried to to focus largely on policy during a televised debate Wednesday, but neither man could escape from attacks that have dogged them for months.

Rubio was blasted for his attendance record, one of the worst in the Senate, while Murphy was criticized his limited record congressional accomplishments. And while neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump were anywhere near the Broward College stage, both presidential hopefuls loomed large over the debate.

The debate — hosted by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association — was the second, and likely final, time the two men shared a stage this election cycle. And it comes as Rubio continues to lead in the polls.

RealClearPolitics, a polling aggregation website, has Rubio ahead by an average of 3.6 percentage points, while Bloomberg Politics poll released earlier Wednesday showed the Miami Republican leading by 10 points.

“Here’s the choice in this election, because elections are at their best when they’re about clear choices, and this election is a clear choice,” said Rubio. “I have real, concrete achievements I can point to, things I’ve been able to do for the state of Florida. He’s been there for four years, and no one’s even noticed. This is a clear … difference.”

More than 2 million ballots have already been cast ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, and millions more people are expected to vote during the early voting period.

“Florida deserves a senator that’s going to show up to work, somebody who is going to roll up their sleeves and get things done for Florida,” said Murphy. “There’s way too much at stake to have a missing senator. We have to do more.”

Both men tried to use the debate to draw clear differences from their opponent on a variety of issues, including Cuba and the Supreme Court.

The issue of health care has loomed large in recent days, after federal officials announced premiums are expected to go up significantly next year under the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. Premiums for a mid-level plan are expected to increase an average of 25 percent across 39 states, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services. And about 1 in 5 consumers will only have plans from a single insurer to pick from.

Murphy has long said he supports the health care law, and defended that position Wednesday, while also saying there needs to be changes to make the program more affordable.

“There’s no question the Affordable Care Act was a huge step forward for our country. But the focus now has to be getting it right, working across the aisle to ensure we are fixing it, making sure we have more coverage for more people that’s affordable,” he said. “I believe we can do that, but you have to show up for work and you have to be working across the aisle.”

Murphy said Rubio has spent his time in office trying to undermine the healthcare law. Rubio opposed the Affordable Care Act, and has said he would repeal it.

But Rubio said he doesn’t want to go back to the “old system,” instead a proposing tax credits to allow Americans to buy health insurance and creating a high risk pool for people who have difficulty getting insurance.

“That is a much better approach than the system we have now, where you are forcing people on Obamacare because if they don’t they’ll get fined on their taxes,” he said.

The two men also squared off on the economy. While Florida has made gains in recent years, wages have generally been flat.

Murphy said the government should invest more in education and infrastructure to help boost wages. He also said the country needs to raise the minimum wage, saying lawmakers can “do more to help them out.”

“Anyone who is willing to work a full time job in this country shouldn’t be living in poverty,” said Murphy, who supports raising the minimum wage.

Rubio shot back, saying he understands what people are going through. He said the wage gap isn’t the only problem, the increase in the cost of living is also stretching working families thin.

“We have to become more competitive by rolling back taxes, especially on small businesses, and rolling back the regulatory burden,” said Rubio. “And we need to diversify our education choices. It doesn’t just have to be a four-year degree. We need more vocational training … we need more alternatives to traditional higher education.”

__The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Poll: Marco Rubio 40%, Patrick Murphy 38%

Sen. Marco Rubio has a narrow lead over Rep. Patrick Murphy, according to a new poll of likely Florida voters.

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows 40 percent of likely voters said they were backing Rubio in the U.S. Senate race, while 38 percent picked Murphy. The poll found 12 percent of voters either didn’t know or refused to say and 6 percent said they were voting for someone else.

Murphy has the support from 74 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of independent voters. The survey found 6 percent of Republicans said they were backing him.

Rubio, the poll found, has the backing of 79 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of independent voters. He also has support from across the aisle, with support from 13 percent of likely Democratic voters.

The online poll of 1,532 likely voters was conducted from Oct. 5 through Oct. 12.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll is in line with other recent surveys, which showed a tight race between the two men. According to RealClearPolitics, Rubio has an average 3.4 percentage point lead over Murphy.

The two men are scheduled to meet Wednesday for their second debate of the election cycle. The one-hour, televised debate, hosted by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association, kicks off at 7 p.m. at Broward College in Davie. The debate will be broadcast in each of Florida’s 11 media markets and simulcast on Florida Public Radio member stations.

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Patrick Murphy campaign releases new digital ad featuring Barack Obama

Rep. Patrick Murphy is getting a bit more help from President Barack Obama.

The Murphy campaign released a new digital spot Friday highlighting Obama’s comments about Murphy. The president campaigned in Miami on Thursday, and used a bit of his speech to encourage Floridians to send Murphy to the U.S. Senate.

“You don’t need to wait until Nov. 8 to send Patrick Murphy to the United States Senate. And Patrick Murphy, unlike his opponent, he actually shows up to work. Unlike his opponent he didn’t try to defund Planned Parenthood. He didn’t walk away from Florida’s Hispanic community when the politics got tough,” the president is shown saying in the advertisement.

“He fought for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Unlike his opponent, Patrick actually believes in science and believes in the effects of climate change. The point is, you deserve leaders who show up to work, who want equal pay for equal work for women.”

This isn’t the first time Obama has given the Murphy campaign a helping hand. In recent months, he’s taped a TV spot for Murphy’s campaign, penned a letter encouraging Floridians to vote for Murphy in the primary, and even sent a fundraising appeal to supporters.

Both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Murphy, and both helped raise campaign cash for Murphy ahead of his primary.

And the new digital ad comes days after the campaign released a new Spanish-language ad featuring the president.

“President Obama knows this election is critical for Florida families and I am humbled to have him standing with me in this campaign,” said Murphy in a statement Friday. “For the past eight years, the president has led the way in the fight to protect our environment, defend women’s health care, and fix our broken immigration system. We have to build on that legacy. We can’t fall backwards. That’s why I’m in this fight. Marco Rubio stands with Donald Trump and special interests. I stand with President Obama and Florida families. I will always show up and fight for this state.”

A new Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed a dead heat between Murphy and Sen. Marco Rubio. According to the poll, 49 percent of Floridians said they were backing Rubio, compared to 47 percent who picked Murphy.

The poll of 660 likely Florida voters was conducted from Oct. 10 through Oct. 16. It has a margin of error of 3.8 percent.

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Joe Henderson: ‘Checkmate’ in the Marco Rubio-Patrick Murphy debate

In the game of chess, it is called “checkmate.”

It is that moment when a player realizes their opponent just cut off their last route of escape.

I think that’s the gambit Marco Rubio sprung on Democrat Patrick Murphy during their U.S. Senate debate Monday night.

One of the best lines of attack for Murphy was that Rubio hadn’t committed to serving the full six-year term that goes with being a senator. The implication was this young man in a hurry was at it again, using the Senate as just a parking spot until he could accomplish his real ambition — winning the presidency.

It was a strong argument, especially given Rubio’s shoddy attendance record during his first term in office.

But then Rubio broke the news in the faceoff with the following statement: “I am going to serve in the Senate for the next six years.”

Say what? Does this mean you’re not going to run for president in the next election, Rubio was asked?

“I am going to be a senator for the next six years on behalf of the state of Florida.”

Whether he actually keeps that vow is fodder for future debates and campaigns. After all, he also promised repeatedly he wasn’t going to run for re-election to the Senate, and here we are.

That apparently hasn’t bothered voters, though. Rubio has a lead in the polls hovering around seven points, and with early voting already underway, Rubio could be difficult to catch in the final three weeks before the election. That’s why Murphy needed a decisive, headline-grabbing debate to swing attention back on his side.

He didn’t get it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Murphy punched hard from the outset, quickly trying to link Rubio with Donald Trump. Murphy pointed out that Trump had essentially humiliated Rubio during the campaign, raising the question of why he hasn’t refused to endorse Trump’s volatile White House bid.

“Senator, if you can’t stand up to him as a candidate, how will you do that as president?” Murphy asked.

Rubio had a good answer.

“I think it’s pretty clear Donald Trump is not my first choice, or even my 10th choice,” he said.

And after jabbing Murphy for his unqualified support of Hillary Clinton, Rubio added, “I have deep reservations about the nominee of my party.”

With that settled, the debate settled into a predictable formula. Rubio criticized Murphy for his well-publicized overstatements about his qualifications. Murphy hit hard on Rubio’s poor attendance record.

My guess is voters made up their minds about those issues a long time ago. What was hovering out there was Rubio’s willingness to commit to serving a full term in the Senate.

With his promise, Rubio may have removed the last bit of major uncertainty the public had about his actual interest in doing the job. If voters decide he means what he says … checkmate.

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Mother of Pulse victim criticizes Marco Rubio in new Patrick Murphy ad

The mother of one of the Pulse nightclub shooting victims is sounding off in a new advertisement for Rep. Patrick Murphy.

The Murphy campaign released a new TV spot Monday, ahead of the first U.S. Senate debate between Murphy and Sen. Marco Rubio. The 30-second spot features Christine Leinonen, whose son Christopher Leinonen was killed in the June attack on the Orlando nightclub.

In the ad, Leinonen criticizes Rubio for not taking action following the shooting.

“He was shot nine times. He didn’t have a chance, and he’s just one of over a hundred people who were shot. He was half my heart. I’ve lost half of who I am,” she says about her son in the ad. “I cannot understand how Marco Rubio would go back to Washington, D.C., and do nothing. I don’t think Patrick Murphy is afraid to take on the toughest problems, including gun violence, in this country.”

This isn’t the first time Leinonen has spoken out about the need for gun reform. She spoke during the Democratic National Convention, calling for commonsense gun policies.

She was among those members of the Pride Fund who threw their support behind Murphy. At the time, she said Murphy will “fight for the gun violence prevention measures that will help keep our families safe.”

A gunman killed 49 people and injured dozens more when he stormed a gay nightclub in Orlando in June.

Murphy faces Rubio in the Nov. 8 general election. In a statement Monday, Murphy said Rubio “never found the courage to stand” with Leinonen.

“Marco Rubio went back to Washington and stood with the gun lobby to oppose commonsense measures that would help keep Florida families safe. Marco Rubio puts the gun lobby before Floridians every time,” said Murphy in a statement. “I’m fighting for Christine, for those we lost at Pulse, and for Florida families across our state. We have a responsibility to act and Floridians deserve a real leader in the U.S. Senate.”

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Democrats throughout Florida call on GOP opponents to denounce #TrumpTapes vulgar comments

A newly released videotape showing Donald Trump making crude comments about a married woman he tried to seduce is sending shock waves throughout Florida politics.

“I’ve said some foolish things,” the Republican presidential nominee said overnight Friday in a taped apology posted on Facebook. “But there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women.”

But Florida Democratic candidates statewide are not letting Trump off the hook so easily. Nearly all of them are calling for the Republican nominee — as well their opponents who support him — to either clarify their position or withdraw from the race.

U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy released a statement Saturday calling Trump’s comments “disgusting,” blasting his opponent, incumbent Republican Marco Rubio, for giving a tepid response.

“While prominent Republicans like Senators Mike Crapo and Kelly Ayotte have already withdrawn their endorsements,” Murphy writes. “Marco Rubio issued a tweet with empty rhetoric and continues to stand by his choice for President.”

“Donald Trump’s comments are sickening, inexcusable and dangerous,” Murphy said. “They contribute to a culture that devalues women and makes our society unsafe … Trump is an unhinged misogynist who has no place anywhere near our country’s highest office.”

Murphy points out Rubio claims he ran for re-election to serve as a check on the next president, even if that president was Trump.

“But how can he serve as a check on a Trump presidency if he won’t even hold Trump accountable as a candidate?” Murphy concluded. “If Senator Rubio cannot withdraw his endorsement after this latest sickening news, then he should withdraw from the race.”

Randy Perkins, who faces Republican Brian Mast in the race for Florida’s 18th Congressional District, says that his opponent has regularly ignored the regular flow of Trump’s “crude comments about women.”

In a statement, Perkins accuses Mast of continuing to support Trump, despite frequent comments the GOP nominee made about women, including calling them “fat pigs … dogs … and slobs” and talking about prenuptial agreements as, “There are three types of women, all gold diggers.”

“I am deeply disturbed and disgusted, not only as a husband and a father, but as a human being,” Perkins said. “Bragging about groping women is never acceptable, and this type of language can never be tolerated or condoned.

“This is why I’m calling on Brian Mast to officially revoke his endorsement of Trump’s candidacy for president,” he added. Many prominent Republicans, including Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, have had the courage to denounce Trump’s vile rhetoric toward women, but, unfortunately, Brian has yet to take their lead.”

Perkins concludes with a question: “Whose side is Brian on, the people of District 18 or Trump?”

David Singer, the Democratic candidate for Florida House District 60, calls it a simple issue of “right versus wrong.” He also demanded Jackie Toledo, his Republican opponent for the Hillsborough County-based seat, to immediately denounce Trump’s remarks.

“As a husband and the father of two young daughters,” Singer said in an email. “I am horrified at Donald Trump’s comments. What he described as his normal behavior with women is criminal sexual assault, plain and simple.

“Anyone who seeks public office should immediately condemn him and call for him to drop out of this race as he is unfit to serve. This is not an issue of left versus right. This is an issue of right versus wrong. This does not reflect the values of our community.

“I am joining Democrats, Independents and Republicans across the country who are calling on him to leave this race. I hope that Jackie Toledo would immediately disavow him as well and join with us in opposing his candidacy.

“At the very least, I would hope that she will finally state that she will not vote for him. If she won’t reject Donald Trump’s candidacy after this, she should tell us what it would take.”

Former Broward County Commissioner Ken Keechl refers to the release of the video — now trending on Twitter as #TrumpTapes — as the “Moraitis Moment.”

Keechl, a Democrat running for House District 93, was referring to his Republican opponent, incumbent state Rep. George Moraitis, who took to the stage last month to introduce Trump in Broward County.

“He is the kind of President that I want,” Moraitis had said at the rally.

Keechl is demanding an apology.

“The country, and world, now have seen what many Republicans, Democrats and Independents have known for so long — Donald Trump is offensive and demeaning to women and his words on the video released yesterday only show how disgusting and hurtful he is,” Keechl said in a statement. “If my opponent stays silent — or worse — continues to endorse and support Donald Trump, then he not only condones Donald Trump’s words and action, but he too will owe Broward residents an apology.”

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Marco Rubio at 48%, Patrick Murphy at 44% in new Quinnipiac University poll

The race for the U.S. Senate is close, with just four percentage points separating Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy.

A new Quinnipiac University poll found Rubio has a slight edge over Murphy, with 48 percent of voters backing the Miami Republican. The survey found 44 percent of respondents said they were supporting Murphy.

“Sen. Marco Rubio has led in the polls for re-election since he changed his mind and decided to seek a second term,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a statement. “But his margin over U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Democratic challenger, has never been large enough to make Sen. Rubio comfortable.”

Rubio’s lead over Murphy narrowed since Quinnipiac’s last U.S. Senate poll. That survey, released in early September, showed Rubio at 50 percent and Murphy at 43 percent.

The latest poll showed Rubio leads among independent voters, 52 percent to 41 percent. He also leads among male voters, 59 percent to 30 percent, and white voters. Among white voters with a college degree, Rubio leads Murphy 54 percent to 38 percent. He also leads the Treasure Coast Democrat among white voters without a college degree, 61 percent to 36 percent.

“It looks like the battle to control the U.S. Senate will go down to the campaign’s final days,” said Brown in a memo, noting races in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania could be key to deciding which party will control the Senate.

According to a Real Clear Politics average of polls, Rubio has a lead of 5.2 points over Murphy. The website has ranked the state’s U.S. Senate race as a “toss-up.” While the Quinnipiac University poll didn’t include a breakdown of demographics, its results are similar to other polls released recently. According to the Miami Herald, a new poll from Associated Industries of Florida showed Rubio was leading Murphy, 48 percent to 39 percent among likely Hispanic voters.

The survey of 545 likely Florida voters was conducted from Sept. 27 to Oct. 2. It has a margin of error of 4.2 percent.

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Patrick Murphy raises $3.3M in third quarter

Rep. Patrick Murphy raised more than $3 million in the third quarter of 2016.

The Murphy campaign announced Monday it raised $3.3 million in the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30. Campaign finance records were not immediately available on the Federal Election Commission’s website.

“I am so humbled by the grassroots support our campaign has received. It is clear that Floridians are ready for a Senator who shows up and fights for them in the U.S. Senate,” said Murphy in a statement. “This election is critical for our state and families and I will not let them down. I look forward to continuing to share my message with Floridians and working hard for every vote until Election Day.”

Records show Murphy raised $1 million between July 1 and Aug. 10. At the time, the campaign reported it had $3.9 million cash on hand.

Murphy faces Sen. Marco Rubio in the Nov. 8 general election. Records show Rubio raised $3.2 million between July 1 and Aug. 10. He had more than $4.6 million cash on hand at the end of reporting period.

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Florida Chamber poll shows Marco Rubio at 46%, Patrick Murphy at 42%

Another day, another poll showing a close race between Rep. Patrick Murphy and Sen. Marco Rubio.

The Florida Chamber Political Institute released a new poll Monday that showed Rubio and Murphy were locked into a tight race. The survey found Rubio was at 46 percent, while Murphy was at 42 percent. Eleven percent of Floridians polled said they were undecided.

The poll of 617 registered voters was conducted from Sept. 15 through Sept. 20. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percent.

According to the Florida Chamber Political Institute, Rubio leads Murphy among Hispanics, 46 percent to 43 percent. He also leads Murphy among white voters, 53 percent to 35 percent. Murphy, meanwhile, holds a 68 percentage point lead over Rubio among African American voters, 79 percent to 11 percent.

With just a few weeks until Election Day, Murphy appears to remain unknown. The survey found 29 percent of respondents said they had never heard of Murphy, while 22 percent said they had a favorable view of Murphy. Twenty-four percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable view of Murphy.

Rubio is well known, and Floridians views seem evenly split. The survey found 43 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of the Miami Democrat, while 44 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion.

Florida’s U.S. Senate race is one of the most closely watched races in the nation, and could determine control of the U.S. Senate.

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