Floridians are only a few hours away from the anticipated first debate between U.S. Senate candidates Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy.
The University of Central Florida will host the one-hour event, to be broadcast online and on some TV and radio stations across the state starting at 7 p.m. ET. ABC Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl will moderate.
Though Democrat Murphy, congressman for politically moderate CD 18, is riding Hillary Clinton's coattails, creeping up on incumbent U.S. Sen. Rubio, he remains a relative unknown to most Floridians outside his district.
What many do know about Murphy isn't stellar -- that he embellished his resume, has hired lawyers to defend various legal and ethical challenges and in the last four years allegedly did favors for his father who is largely financing his run.
Six months ago, when polls showed Murphy was besting the GOP field, he had the enthusiastic support of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Since Rubio dropped out of the presidential race and decided to reclaim his Senate seat, however, national Democrats' support for Murphy has died down.
Only in recent days, since polls have begun to show a lack of enthusiasm for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, has Murphy looked like a threat again.
Rubio is expected to have the upper hand in personal presentation -- in statesmanship, in knowledge of the economy and particularly in foreign affairs. Murphy's accomplishments in Congress have been slim, and coupled with his "character issues," Rubio is expected to challenge him on both.
Murphy, on the other hand, is expected to challenge Rubio's commitment to his Senate job, his poor attendance record, particularly since he began campaigning for president -- and will undoubtedly hammer away at the incumbent's support of Donald Trump at a time when many Republicans are stepping away from him.
Though Rubio still leads in the polls, the race is close enough to call a toss-up. Political observers believe the large and growing base of Hispanic voters could decide the outcome. Though Rubio is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Cuba, immigration activists have been critical of his position. Rubio also must survive Trump’s unpopularity with Hispanics, who favor Hillary Clinton over Trump 54 percent to 30 percent, according to an Associated Industries of Florida poll.
Not that Murphy isn't vulnerable with some Hispanics. First, he has introduced himself to the Hispanic community only recently; and then he openly declared his determination to end the embargo with Cuba -- popular with younger voters but unpopular with the rest.
The debate will be simulcast live on ABC affiliates throughout the state, as well as Cox Media Group radio stations. A livestream will be online at abcnews.com/live and politico.com/live. Sponsors are WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando, in partnership with ABC News, Politico and Cox Media Group.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith