Crist, Meek try to paint Rubio as too extreme in Sunday Senate debate

Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist joined forces Sunday to try to paint their opponent and the Florida Senate race front runner, Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioStudy: Early unemployment cutoff would cost 16M people 0B The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Senate votes to repeal OCC 'true lender' rule MORE, as too extreme for voters.

Appearing on CNN’s "State of the Union" for their fifth debate, the three candidates battled over how to help the United States bounce back from a struggling economy and what to do about the expiring Bush cuts as well as the military conflict in Afghanistan. And with Rubio (R) significantly ahead in the polls, Meek (D) and Crist, running as an independent, turned their fire on the GOP rising star.

Crist highlighted his support of the Democrats’ stimulus package to help get America’s economy back on track as an example of his pragmatism. Rubio opposed the bill and says it has led to a record-high national deficit.

“It was one of the reasons I was with the president on the Recovery Act,” Crist said. “I couldn’t be extreme. I couldn’t be ideological. I had to be prudent. I had to be pragmatic.”

The debate turned to the expiring Bush tax cuts, over whether to extend them for all Americans, including the wealthiest, or just for those making under $250,000 a year. Rubio wants to extend them all while Meek wants to keep them only for those making less than $250,000.

“He is thinking of ideology that would put the middle class in the hole,” Meek said. “If we are going to govern, we are going to have to govern in a responsible way.”

Faced with two opponents, Rubio defended his positions by saying they are bipartisan. For example, he said, several Democratic senators want to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone.

“It is a bad time to raise taxes on anybody,” Rubio said. The former Florida House Speaker said the nation’s economic policies need to free up small businesses to hire by giving them tax cuts while the federal government executes a serious plan to cut down on spending.

“If you don’t do both, you end up growing the debt,” Rubio said.

That led to some crosstalk between Rubio and Meek, which Crist interrupted and called partisan “bickering.”

“You are seeing it right now, right here. That is why I’m running as an independent,” Crist said to applause.

Meek then interjected with his own riposte to greater cheers.

“Let me say this. We know why the governor is running as an independent. Because he couldn’t beat Marco Rubio! Let’s just put it that way, let’s just put it that way,” Meek said.

Rubio also made note of Crist’s propensity to either soften or change his positions outright to help win votes in the Senate race.

“I do think it is curious that he is attacking me on positions he held six months ago when he was running in the Republican primary and we were debating on Fox News,” Rubio said.