Florida to decide Rubio’s fate, influence presidential race


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida voters decide Tuesday whether Republican Sen. Marco Rubio deserves a second term in an election that also will send at least eight new members to Congress, play a critical role in the presidential race and decide whether to broaden access to medical marijuana.

Rubio is being challenged by Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a second-term congressmen who has repeatedly attacked Rubio for missing votes while running for president and supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump despite condemning his words and behavior.

The race has been surprisingly tight. Republican leaders strongly urged Rubio to seek a second term after Rubio, by his own count, said 10,000 times he wouldn’t. He was seen as a lock to retain the seat as the major parties struggled for a Senate majority, but Murphy has remained competitive despite being largely unknown to voters. Millions of dollars has been spent in attack ads claiming he lied about his education and professional experience.

Murphy’s rise could be a sign that some Florida voters lost their love for Rubio after he ran for president and that Rubio is being dragged down by Trump, a candidate who has turned off voters with comments about women and minorities and unsubstantiated claims that the election was rigged in favor of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Florida is the largest swing state with 29 electoral votes and there’s little chance Trump can win the presidency without it. That’s why Trump and Clinton spent a ton of time in Florida during the final weeks of the campaign. And when they weren’t here, their running mates, President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama or Vice President Joe Biden were. Polls have shown a close race.

Florida has nearly 12.9 million voters. They break down like this: nearly 4.9 million Democrats, nearly 4.6 million Republicans and more than 3.4 million voters not registered with either major party.

Even before Election Day, Republicans cast 2.47 million ballots by mail or at early voting sites, compared with 2.56 million by Democrats. That means independents, who cast 1.23 million early votes, will have a strong sway in the election.

Florida also will send at least eight, and possibly more, new representatives to the U.S. House. Retirements, a state Supreme Court order to redraw congressional maps, and members leaving to seek other political office have led to the eight open seats. In addition, Republican-turned-Democrat former Gov. Charlie Crist is running a strong race against U.S. Rep. David Jolly in a newly drawn district that now has more Democrats. Republican U.S. Reps. John Mica and Carlos Curbelo also are facing strong Democratic competition.

Florida voters will also decide whether to amend the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana, which would broaden access to pot beyond the limited therapeutic uses approved by the legislature two years ago. The ballot question needs 60 percent support to pass. Two years ago a similar measure received only 57.6 percent support.

Power companies are behind another proposed amendment that could allow them to impose fees on customers who install solar panels. They say it would prevent non-solar customers from subsidizing infrastructure needed to hook solar customers to the power grid. Opponents say it will create barriers that will discourage solar use.

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