ORLANDO, Fla. – Gov. Jeb Bush and Democratic challenger Bill McBride on Tuesday held their final debate before the election, arguing over medical malpractice insurance, gay adoption and gun control.
The debate was crucial for both candidates in a race that remained close two weeks before the election. The most recent poll showed Bush 5 percentage points ahead of McBride — 49-44 — with a 4-point margin of error.
Bush said he would support a law that would limit lawsuit awards against doctors in an attempt to control rising malpractice insurance costs. "If we don't do that doctors will leave this state," he said.
McBride, who led the state's largest law firm before resigning to run for governor, said he would not support such a law. He said insurance rates in general need to be addressed — not just malpractice insurance.
"There is a crisis in Florida but it cuts across every single area of insurance," McBride said.
The two also took opposing positions over a law that prohibits gays from adopting children. Bush said he supports the law while McBride said it is a form of discrimination.
Asked about gun control, Bush said he had supported a 1998 measure that required counties to perform instant background checks at gun shows, and would support a similar statewide measure.
But McBride said, "The state of Florida needs no more gun laws."
As they have throughout the campaign, the two also sparred Tuesday over a proposed constitutional amendment to limit class sizes in schools.
Bush said the amendment would force the state to raise taxes. McBride said the governor has done nothing to reduce the number of students in Florida's public school classrooms.
"For the last three-and-a-half years you've had an opportunity to reduce class sizes. They haven't been reduced," McBride said.
Bush said the amendment would hurt schools by taking away the ability to be innovative and making it more difficult to raise teacher salaries.
"It will require a massive increase in taxes or a cut in programs," Bush said.
McBride said his education proposals could be funded by a proposed 50-cent per pack cigarette tax increase.