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Debate Night: Curbelo & Garcia Battle On Healthcare, Corruption & Cuba

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It was debate night for two alumni of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in a hotly contested race for Congress.

U.S. Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Belen class of 1998, versus Joe Garcia, Belen class of 1982.

Garcia, a Democrat, was the congressman in District 26 before the Republican beat him out two years ago.

Garcia's message suggests Curbelo is an echo of Donald Trump.

"He has voted time and time again to get rid of ObamaCare, but he does not have a replacement. Just get rid of it," Garcia said.

Curbelo hammered away at Garcia's previous campaign's questionable electioneering issues.

"What are you talking about, seriously, the question was on your campaign corruption and you go off on some diatribe about Curbelo being like Trump," he said.

Curbelo announced he was not voting for Trump.

Meanwhile, the crowd, most alumni of the school that has origins in pre-Castro Cuba, watched Garcia and Curbelo differ greatly on current U.S. policy toward Cuba.

"Should the embargo stay in effect?" the moderator asked them.

"No, I am a believer that I have followed this president's policy. I am in favor, it makes sense. We have had a policy in place for half a century and it has failed," Garcia said.

Curbelo followed, saying, "I do not support any additional unilateral sanctions for the Cuban government, why? Because they are still an enemy of the United States. No, this policy does not advance U.S. national security interests."

U.S. Rep. Curbelo is a former school board member who operated a public relations firm. He has tried to present himself as a moderate Republican willing to work with Democrats. He was one of only two Republicans who stood and applauded President Barack Obama during his State of the Union Address when the President spoke in support of gay rights and same sex marriage. (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the other.) He has also sided with the White House on climate change.

Curbelo, however, still votes with his fellow Republicans on most issues, including measures to repeal Obamacare, opposing gun control, building the Keystone pipeline, and limiting a woman's right to choose an abortion.

Garcia was elected to Congress in 2012, representing the 26th District, but left under a cloud of scandal. While never charged, Garcia was in the middle of two criminal investigations in 2013. In one case, his chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia, who is not related, served time for orchestrating a fraudulent, online absentee-ballot request during the 2012 campaign.

Garcia is known for working with President Obama to reform the immigration system and allow Dreamers to stay in the U.S., he supports student loan reductions and protecting the environment.

Click here to read more about Campaign 2016.


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