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Nelson and Mack spar in testy exchange during single debate of the campaign

Florida’s low-key U.S. Senate campaign got an hour of drama Wednesday as Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Connie Mack IV sparred in an attack-filled televised debate that will serve as the only face-to-face match-up of the campaign.

Within minutes of opening the debate, the lines of attack emerged as Mack introduced himself as “a proud, mainstream conservative” and immediately attacked Nelson for voting to “gut our military,” cut Medicare and vote to raise taxes 150 times.

 “I’ve got a simple litmus test,’’ said Mack, the Cape Coral Republican. “If you voted for higher taxes 150 times, it’s time for you to go.” Nelson, 70, who is seeking his third term, responded that “everything the congressman’s just said, is not true.’’ It was a line he repeated often during the exchange.

He accused Mack, 45, of partisan, ideological attacks that he described as “the problem with politics today” and said he has spent his career reaching “across the partisan divide” to “build bi-partisan consensus.”

The fast-paced debate covered all the hot spots as a panel of journalists, including the Miami Herald’s Toluse Olorunnipa, asked the candidates about the budget, Medicare, debt, domestic violence, national security, immigration and the Cuban embargo. With each question, both Mack and Nelson came prepared with reprisals of the same attacks they have lobbed at each other in television ads for months: More here.