ABC: Debate gives Crist, Meek, chance to catch up with Rubio **UPDATE

Florida 2010 Senate candidates, Crist, Rubio and Meek.

The Florida Senate contenders squrae off tonight on ABC. Florida political watchers are calling it perhaps the last, best chance for the guys in second and third place to catch the front-runner, Rubio.

From ABC News:

Recent polls show Rubio, the child of Cuban émigrés, with a slight lead. But debates have a history of making the difference in Florida, according to Adam Smith, who is political director at the St. Petersburg Times.

“It’s not over, but Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek can’t afford to wait much longer to shake up the race,” said Smith, who pointed out that absentee voting is already under way and early voting begins Oct. 18.

“Last-minute surprises or attacks no longer suffice. The latest polls indicate Crist is within striking range, so the stakes really are pretty high for the debate,” he said.

Expect Social Security to move to the top tier of debate hot topics tonight, particularly since the Crist campaign has begun hammering Rubio onthe issue. Also: immigration (which Rubio really, really can’t be eager to talk about) and “fiscal responsibility,” which raises all sorts of issues that could make for a fun time.

The debate jumps off at 7 p.m. EST. Also, I’ll be on “Hardball” tonight at around 5:15 to talk about this race. Tune in if you can!

UPDATE: PostOnPolitics reviews the Meek team’s quest for mojo, and posts Meek’s polling results from the last seven polls. The Meek people are pushing back hard on the Chamber and Zogby polls, trashing the former as partisan (it is) and the latter as Nate Silver’s lowest rated drek (it is). The problem, of course, is that perception is reality in politics, and Meek needs to score second place in a poll — any one will due, at this point — and he needs to do it yesterday, if he’s going to convince Democratic voters that he is viable. I’ve been saying that for months, and it’s still true.

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