George Stephanopoulos will have a simple mission when he comes to Florida today, moderating a debate among U.S. Senate candidates independent Gov. Charlie Crist, Democrat Kendrick Meek and Republican Marco Rubio for ABC affiliates across the state.
"I want to do my homework and once we get going, just keep the debate moving and make sure the candidates are held accountable for their positions," said Stephanopoulos, who leads the event at 7 tonight from WFTV-TV studios in Orlando.
"This is one of the most fascinating races in the country," added the Good Morning America co-anchor, who also serves as chief political correspondent for ABC News. "You have so many story lines: the incumbent governor who becomes an independent, a Republican candidate who was ahead of the curve as a member of the tea party and a Democrat who — in some ways, the race proceeding exactly as he predicted."
Stephanopoulos will be joined in the questioning by Brendan McLaughlin from WFTS-Ch. 28 in Tampa and Craig Patrick from WFTV. The hourlong debate will air on both stations and be streamed on their websites, including ABCNews.com.
McLaughlin, who stepped down from anchoring WFTS' 11 p.m. broadcast to spend more time reporting on politics, hoped to bring a local reporter's familiarity with the candidates to the questions. (WFTS also has provided a minimum of five minutes' free airtime to political candidates in the month before the elections.)
"I think I might have a better sense of how these guys are perceived around the state," said McLaughlin, who just returned from Phoenix, where he assembled reports on how that city handled the politics of building a rail system similar to Florida's planned project. "There's just no substitute for covering news in the field."
Stephanopoulos wouldn't divulge specific questions, but did say they will cover the "waterfront" of issues you would expect: the economy, immigration, foreign policy and trade, and local issues. And as someone who helped lead a campaign during a similar midterm, working on Bill Clinton's White House staff during the 1994 midterm elections, the ABC anchor has a unique perspective on what the candidates might be feeling now.
"At this point in time, it's a lot about endurance; hoping your voice holds out for the final three weeks," he said, laughing. "The economy is in far worse shape now than it was in 1994 … and the Republican Party is not viewed as favorably now as it was in 1994. And Democrats have gotten a little more warning about what's coming."