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PolitiFact Florida Provides Clarity On First Rubio-Murphy Senate Debate

Sen. Marco Rubio, left, and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy at Monday night's debate in Orlando

After a campaign that seemingly has lasted years, the two main candidates for U.S. Senate finally met for a debate. Monday night's match in Orlando between incumbent Republican Marco Rubio and Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy revolved around a lot of allegations - and mostly about how little each other has accomplished while in office.


To check on the veracity of these claims, we do a lightning round of fact-checking with Josh Gillin of PolitiFact Florida.

Murphy: "I got my start as an auditor and CPA." The National Republican Senatorial Committee has challenged Murphy’s resume, saying he "never worked as a CPA" (and also was "never a small business owner"). The word "never" is too extreme to characterize Murphy’s work experience. But he did work as a CPA, albeit for only several months. He first worked as an audit assistant, and then got licensed through the state of Colorado, but he left his accounting job less than one year after he got his license. Murphy: Rubio has the worst voting record of any Florida senator in 50 years. Rubio has the highest absentee rate since George Smathers, who left office in 1969. There are plenty of ways to slice the data: Some senators missed more votes overall, and his record is largely in line with other presidential candidates from the U.S. Senate. It’s important to keep those points in mind, but we rated the statement Mostly True. Rubio: Murphy hasn’t gotten anything done in the House. Rubio’s counterpunch to Murphy’s scolding about his attendance was to point out that Murphy has not managed to pass a piece of legislation he sponsored despite having a Democrat as president. That attack ignores the fact that Murphy had little chance of seeing legislation through committee as an outnumbered Democrat in the Republican-run House. It echoes an attack by one of the third-party groups supporting Rubio, the American Future Fund, which lashed Murphy for being "one of the least effective" House members earlier in the campaign. That claim rated Mostly False because it is based on a study with a limited view of Murphy’s record — just sponsored bills that passed out of committee through 2014. Another review showed he met expectations for a freshman of the minority party. Murphy: PolitiFact debunked all of the attacks against me. Not quite. PolitiFact Florida has fact-checked several attacks on Murphy’s resume, some of which which stretched the truth. Not all of the critiques were off-base. For example, when Rubio previously said, "Murphy embellished, according to reports, his University of Miami academic achievement," we rated that Mostly True. On his congressional office and U.S. Senate campaign websites, Murphy said he had "dual degrees" when in fact he had a single degree with a double major in two areas of study: accounting and finance. When the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times pointed out the inaccuracy, his campaign said it was an error and fixed it. Murphy had also referred to "dual degree" at times in the past while other times his websites reflected a single degree. Rubio: I worked to address the Obamacare "bailout fund." The "bailout fund" is actually a provision in the Affordable Care Act called risk corridors, designed to temporarily aid insurers as they adjust premiums. Rubio helped persuade Congress to prevent the Health and Human Services Department from being able to cover expenses its own budget.  But experts have said Rubio is wrong to call the program a bailout, and that the program is supposed to pay for itself through fees from insurers.  The program has not been wiped out, as Rubio has said. At best, Rubio and Congress have temporarily limited one potential way CMS could have covered insurance companies' losses. We’ll have to see what happens when the program expires after 2016 -- then any outstanding bills will be due, one way or another. Rubio: "His ad says I want to take away reproductive rights for women. That’s false." That wasn’t the question. Politico Florida reporter Marc Caputo asked Rubio why his campaign ran a Spanish-language ad accusing Murphy of wrongly conveying Rubio's stance on abortion for pregnant women infected by Zika. What Murphy originally said in a September ad is that Rubio does not believe those women should have a right to an abortion if they suspect their baby may suffer from Zika-related birth defects. Rubio had been the one who confirmed that stance in an August story in Politico. Rubio then disputed it in his Spanish-language ad in October. Unless Rubio has changed his stance and not spoken about it publicly, Murphy portrayed Rubio’s stance correctly.


Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.