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George Stephanopoulos Highlights Tea Party Candidates 'Called Too Extreme,' Touts Attacks on Rubio

On Wednesday, Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos hosted the Florida Senate debate and on Thursday morning highlighted the attacks against Republican Marco Rubio.

Discussing the Tea Party overall, Stephanopoulos dismissed, "Both [Joe] Miller and [Christine] O'Donnell have been called too extreme by their opponents. The same case made here against Rubio."

Stephanopoulos, a former top aide to Bill Clinton, replayed attacks from the debate both from Democrat Kendrick Meek and independent Charlie Crist.

Crist derided Rubio: "Wanting to punish women. Wanting to punish seniors by raising the age of eligibility. You haven't been drinking the kool aid, my friend, you've been drinking too much tea."

Stephanopoulos then played a clip of Meek complaining, "[Rubio] doesn't carry the values that this state needs in the United States Senate to put people back to work." Only a snippet of Rubio was seen during the segment.

The host also predicted a downside to GOP gains: "...If Republicans, as we expect, pick up seats in the House and Senate, maybe even take control, that's a recipe for more gridlock." Analyst Matt Dowd agreed, "I don't think this tea kettle is going to be totally vented in this election cycle because a number of the Tea Party candidates will probably not win."

Oddly, Stephanopoulos on Tuesday pushed the idea that the Tea Party could be "losing traction." On Thursday, he admitted, "In some key races, the Tea Party tidal wave is still gaining strength."

A transcript of the October 7 segment can be found below:

7AM tease

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Tea Party time. Christine O'Donnell slips far behind in new polls. Sarah Palin to the rescue. But, down here in Florida, the Tea Party favorite riding high after last night's rollicking debate.

7:05

ROBIN ROBERTS: Let's get back to George, now, in Orlando. George?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Robin. Thanks. There are just 26 days to go until the midterm elections. We're starting a serious debate right now. And last night, the prime time debate here in Florida. The Florida Senate debate. And it was hard-charging and hard-hitting, right from the start. And crystallized a lot of the political conversation taking place all throughout the country right now. The blows were coming from all directions. Right, left and center. In some key races, the Tea Party tidal wave is still gaining strength. A new poll in Nevada shows Sharron Angle now two points ahead of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And in Florida, Marco Rubio, who was the first to harness that Tea Party energy months ago, has a big lead, which has made him the top target from independent Charlie Crist, on Social Security.

CRIST AD: Rubio wants to raise the Social Security retirement age.

CHARLIE CRIST: He talked about raising the age of eligibility. Said it was on the table.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I just want a yes or no answer. Is it still on the table?

MARCO RUBIO: It is not.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The debate I moderated last night got rocking from the start and Rubio stuck to the Tea Party themes that have put him ahead.

RUBIO: Our debt problem going forward is because Washington can't control spending. If you like Obama Care, if you like the stimulus plan, you can vote for Charlie Crist or Kendrick Meek.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That message is clicking for Rubio here in Florida. But, other Tea Party candidates are having a tougher time. A new poll in Delaware shows Christine O'Donnell trailing her Democratic opponent by double-digits. And in Alaska, the Tea Party's Joe Miller is locked in an E-mail debate with Sarah Palin's husband, about whether Palin is qualified to be president. Todd doesn't think that Miller has been effusive enough. But, Sarah weighed in last night.

SARAH PALIN: Yeah, a diversion like that, trying to make me a part of the narrative there in Joe Miller's campaign. Joe Miller is the right person to help lead Alaska.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Both Miller and O'Donnell have been called too extreme by their opponents. The same case made here against Rubio.

CRIST: I mean, wanting to punish teachers. Wanting to punish women. Wanting to punish seniors by raising the age of eligibility. You haven't been drinking the kool aid, my friend, you've been drinking too much tea.

KENDRICK MEEK: He doesn't carry the values that this state needs in the United States Senate to put people back to work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay and joining us now is our political contributor, Matthew Dowd. Also columnist for National Journal. You were here watching last night. And we were talking about the debate. The first thing you said was this is a microcosm of what's happening in the country.

MATT DOWD: Yeah. If you watch the debate, it's very interesting. You have Marco Rubio, on the attack on Washington. Trying to make Crist and Meek the, sort of, Representative of Washington. He went on attack on Obama. Said it was the Republican message of anti-Washington.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And spending.

DOWD: Big-time, on spending. You had Meek making the very, very energetic defense of what they did in Washington, what the Democrats did. And, so, to me, it's the passion on both of those sides. It ended up putting Crist in the middle, a little in the soft and squishy middle because the passion exists on both sides, with what it is in the rest of the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you think that Rubio was a favorite of the Tea Party from the beginning, has really mastered that anti-Washington message. And that's where a lot of the country is right now.

DOWD: Yeah. Absolutely. I think he came out. He's slightly ahead in this race. I think he did himself well. He probably solidified the Republicans even more last night. But, he has the disciplined message, which basically is if you like what's going on in Washington, don't vote for me. Vote for them. It represents it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, as we said in the piece, we're seeing mixed results from the Tea Party candidates now across the country. Sharron Angle out in Nevada has pulled a little bit ahead of Harry Reid. Christine O'Donnell way down in Delaware. Rubio doing, doing pretty well here. Rand Paul probably going to be doing okay in Kentucky. But, it's not going to be a clean sweep for the Tea Party on election day, which could create- which means probably means frustration driving that won't go away after Election Day.

DOWD: Yeah. I don't think this tea kettle is going to be totally vented in this election cycle because a number of the Tea Party candidates will probably not win. And the Republicans will probably not be able to do, if they do win, a lot. And, so, I think what's going to happen, is after November, the anger and frustration that exists out there is only going to grow as we go into the next cycle of elections.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, in part, because If Republicans, as we expect, pick up seats in the House and Senate, maybe even take control, that's a recipe for more gridlock.

DOWD: Yeah. I think absolutely what's going to happen after this November, is little is going to get done in Washington. And people are going to be more frustrated going into the presidential election in 2012.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things we've seen across the country, which you really feel here as you turn on your television, is campaign spending. Likely to see $3 billion spent in this election cycle. A lot of it by groups where you don't know where the money is coming from. And it's all across the air waves here.

DOWD: Absolutely. The economy that's suffering, the people doing well are the media consultants because there's ad after ad after ad. You watched last night in Orlando and it's just every place you go, is a negative ad about somebody on the ballot. At some point, there's so many ads that washes over the voters. And I think things like last night's debate I think have a much bigger impact on voters than the ads do because there's so many in so many different places. But, a lot of money's getting spent.

-Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.