The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Marco Rubio and Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy has remained largely in the shadows this year as Clinton and Trump have fought over Florida's 29 electoral votes. But the race began to emerge this week with the first of what now looks to be two debates between Rubio and Murphy.
The headline of the debate was Rubio coming as close as he has to committing to serve the entirety of a second term in the Senate – unless a higher authority weighs in.
"I'm going to serve in the Senate for the next six years, God willing," Rubio said.
It was pushback against one of Murphy's most persistent charges against Rubio – that the Republican all but abandoned his seat to run for president in 2016 and might do so again in 2020 if Trump fails to capture the White House, as looks increasingly likely.
Rubio's comment appeared to catch Murphy off guard. A few moments later, the Democrat rattled off that Rubio still hadn't vowed to "commit to serving a full term," as he responded to a question about his own business career.
"That's a line he practiced before I said what I actually said today," remarked Rubio.
There was a note of irony to the call-out, given that Rubio's presidential campaign stumbled badly after he repeated a line almost verbatim four times at a debate, something that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was quick to point out.
But 2016 politics is still 2016 politics, and Trump loomed over the debate. Murphy slammed Rubio for refusing to unendorse the Republican candidate despite offensive comments about women, immigrants and others.
"If you can't stand up to Donald Trump as a candidate, how in the world are you going to stand up to him as the president of the United States?" Murphy asked. "This is about what he's done. Think of how unqualified he is. Just a couple of weeks (ago) it came out that he's violated the (Cuba) embargo, something that I know you care a lot about. And you still stand by his side."
Rubio, repeated a line he rolled out prior to the debate, that neither presidential candidate is inspirational. And that while he disagrees with a lot of what Trump says and does, Rubio said he disagrees with everything from Clinton.
"I don't trust either one of them, and the job of a U.S. senator is not to blindly follow the president because they happen to be from your own party," Rubio said.
For the record, Rubio rejected Trump's assertions that the presidential election could be rigged. Whether his attempts to distance himself from the nominee are working is questionable after a new poll this week showed the Senate race is essentially a dead heat.
Rubio led by two points, 49 percent to 47 percent, in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted before the debate. That's well within the poll's margin of error.