Belen alumni Curbelo, Garcia square off in debate

WEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - A congressional clash took place at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, Thursday night, as alumni Carlos Curbelo and Joe Garcia took the stage in a debate with national political repercussions.

Though both men have some sort of home court advantage, this race goes beyond Belen, Miami-Dade and even South Florida.

Garcia, a Democrat running for District 26, wants his house seat back, but Curbelo, the Republican incumbent, is standing in his way.

Curbelo brought up Garcia’s past legal issues, while Garcia countered with attacks on Curbelo’s voting record.

“This is why I called your campaign corrupt. In 2010, your campaign recruited and illegally financed a straw candidate,” said Curbelo. “You knew about this crime. There are court documents that reflect that you knew about this crime.”

“Carlos talks about these things, but he has yet to release his client lists when he served, so I don’t know who he votes for,” Garcia countered. “But when it comes to the people of South Florida and the voting record we have, it’s one that’s in tune with the people of South Florida.”

The candidates also discussed immigration reform and U.S.-Cuba relations.

“I’ve tried to work with both parties to get things done for this community,” Curbelo told 7News before the debate.

This race, however, is more than just about this community. It’s considered a nationally high-profile, high-stakes battle, as Republicans aim to keep control of the house.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, are looking for a rebound after being swept from power in back-to-back midterm elections, but with a Republican party thought to be in flux and entangled in Donald Trump controversies, Democrats like Garcia are looking to take advantage.

“We have a good sense of the community, what’s important to them, and the issues that are important,” Garcia said before the debate. “This is a very diverse community, so no two areas of this district are the same. You’ve got agriculture in South Dade, mid-class suburbs in Westchester, resorts in the Keys and everything in between.”

Curbelo is also focusing on the Zika virus. “For the South Florida community, the number one priority in Congress is to get Zika funding passed.”

He is hoping to win in November, just like in 2014, when he defeated Garcia.

The candidates have more than politics and South Florida in common, though. Just ask their former math teacher from Belen. “I really felt very close to these guys,” said Carol Vila, Director of Technology at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School. “He was very persuasive and good at that, and I say Joe is still a persuasive guy. To me, Carlos was born to be a politician.”

The debate was moderated by another Belen graduate, Tom Llamas of ABC News.

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