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Florida candidates for governor face off in Spanish TV debate

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[October 11, 2014]  By David Adams
 MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott and his Democratic challenger Charlie Crist squared off in the first televised debate of the election campaign for governor on Friday, an expensive and closely watched race in the nation's largest swing state.

The hour-long debate lacked any knockout blows as the candidates traded jabs at each other's records while avoiding serious gaffes in a campaign marked by negativity on both sides.

The debate, conducted in English, was hosted by Spanish-language TV network Telemundo and will be broadcast statewide on Friday evening with a Spanish translation.

Both parties are campaigning hard for the support of Hispanics, who are the fastest growing segment of Florida's electorate, accounting for 14 percent of registered voters. Scott and Crist both picked Hispanic running mates for this campaign, a first in state history.

Crist holds a significant 53-29 percent lead over Scott among Hispanics who are turned off by Republican policies on immigration, healthcare and the minimum wage, according to a poll released on Friday by Latino Decisions.

The poll, paid for by the National Council of La Raza, a national Hispanic civil rights group, showed strong Hispanic support for Medicaid expansion in Florida as well as raising the minimum wage, both of which Republicans oppose.

During the debate, Scott accused Crist, a former Republican governor, of being a smooth-talking flip-flopper, highlighting his record as a politician who changed parties and reversed his position on issues such as gay marriage and immigration.

"Charlie talks a big game, but there is no action," Scott said, referring to Crist's failure to pass legislation he now advocates when he was governor from 2007-2011.

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Crist accused Scott, a millionaire former healthcare executive, of ignoring the interests of low income and middle class voters, many of whom are Hispanic.

"It seems Governor Scott may be out of touch. Thatís unfortunate," said Crist.

The two candidates stand on opposite sides of a number of key issues, including education funding, same-sex marriage, medical marijuana and raising the minimum wage.

Support for Crist appeared to be gaining ground this week after a series of polls showed him overtaking Scott by a narrow margin.

(Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Jim Loney)

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