WASHINGTON — Marco Rubio postponed Sunday's nationally televised U.S. Senate debate with Kendrick Meek to be with his ailing father.
A spokesman for the Miami Republican said Friday that the 83-year-old Mario Rubio's health had "significantly deteriorated in the last 48 hours'' and that Rubio planned to stay with his father and family and wouldn't be able to participate in the Meet the Press debate.
The elder Rubio — whom Marco Rubio often invokes on the campaign trail — suffers from emphysema and lung cancer.
The campaign informed NBC and Meek "and appreciate their understanding and kind words for the Rubio family during this difficult period," spokesman Alex Burgos said.
NBC said in a statement that its "thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Rubio and his family during this time and we look forward to rescheduling the debate at a later date to be announced."
Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent candidate, had turned down the invitation to join the debate — the first post-primary encounter for the candidates.
Rubio and Meek, who sealed a hotly contested Democratic primary win two weeks ago, have agreed to at least five Senate debates.
Crist, who appeared with Rubio on a Fox News faceoff in April when he was running as a Republican, has agreed to just one debate.
Rubio's parents are part of his Senate campaign narrative. He frequently notes that they came to the United States after escaping Cuba with "virtually nothing, no English, no money, no friends. Only the strong determination to provide their children all the opportunities they never had."
"As the son of exiles I know firsthand that it is possible to lose your country because my parents lost theirs," he said last week in the weekly Republican radio address.
"My mom worked as a factory worker, a maid and a stock clerk at Kmart," he said.
''My dad was a bartender. They made many sacrifices so we would know opportunities they never did."
In February, Rubio told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference that his father's mother had died when he was 6, "and the day after her funeral, he went to work selling coffee in the streets of Havana with his father and as best as I can tell, he worked from then on for 70 years.
"Both of my parents worked jobs so their children could have careers, and their lives were never easy," he said. "How many nights did I hear the keys of my 70-year-old father at the door as he came home after another 16-hour day?"