MIAMI, Fl- During the 5th Florida Senate debate, independent candidate Gov. Charlie Crist, and Democrat Congressman Kendrick Meek, both trailing Republican Marco Rubio by double-digits, sought to bump him from his front-runner perch.
"I used to be an outside linebacker and I used to sack quarterbacks, and fold knees and things of that nature," Meek said, connecting his experience as football player at Florida A&M to his Senate candidacy. "When a United States senator from Florida hits the floor in Washington D.C., they must have the will and the desire to stand up for the people and not the special interests."
"Listening to Kendrick talk about being a linebacker, and buckling knees, I'm just glad he's not going to hit me," Rubio responded.
Crist also aggressively hurled accusations, like Hail Mary passes, at Rubio, his former primary rival before he left the GOP, throughout the hour long, nationally-televised debate.
"I've never had a heckler at the debate. I have always had them in the audience," Rubio responded at one point, eliciting laughter and applause from the Tampa crowd. "I've had this heckler going on for two minutes now."
"Welcome to the NFL," Crist responded, a former college quarterback.
During an interview with FOX News the day before, Rubio, also a former college player and a die-hard Florida Gators fan, similarly described the state of the race with football terms.
"Like football, It is late in the game, and we are up by 10, but they can be a play away from making a 180 turn," Rubio said.
The former Speaker of the Florida House said that despite feeling positive about his campaign, he was not underestimating his opponents.
When asked if he was worried that some of his Republican supporters, seeing his large lead in the race, may not show up at the polls.
"We are not seeing that," he said bluntly.
While holding his iPad in his hands, Rubio said that Florida, like the national electoral trend, was showing that Republican voters are coming out in full force for this election.
The debate Sunday was moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley, and the Political Editor of the St. Petersburg Times, Adam Smith.
Smith at one point asked Crist if he still would have left the Republican party if he hadn't been losing to Rubio in the bitter primary battle.
"Absolutely. You have to be right with yourself, Adam," Crist said, as Meek, sitting next to him on the stage, openly laughed.
Crist explained the reason he was running as an independent was because the party that he called home for decades, had strayed "so far right" and now was the place of "extreme views."
I couldn't live with that," Crist said." So here we are, as an independent."
"We know why the Governor is running as an independent: it is because he couldn't beat Marco Rubio. Okay, " Meek said about Crist's GOP primary defection. "He has been all over the board. First a Republican then he became an independent. Went down and nominated himself to sit here at this table, at this very point. Now he wants to pick up Democratic ideas."
"I think it's curious that he attacks positions he held like 6 months ago during the Republican primary. " Rubio said about Crist.
The 6th, and final, Senate debate will be held in Orlando on Tuesday.