Texas Senate Showdown: The Big Debate

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On Friday night, the GOP candidates faced off in the only major televised debate of the primary.

Republidrama

Even before the debate, there was some serious Republidrama. Ted Cruz texted Craig James the following: “Craig–hope you're well. See you Friday. For what it's worth, since you're asking me a Q, it might be worth asking me something about Dew skipping 31 debates (or something else related to his record). Just an idea… Ted.”

James immediately released this text to the media, accusing Cruz of trying to “rig” the debate: “Today I was put in an awkward position by Ted Cruz, a man I've come to know and respect. Ted sent me a text suggesting I ask him a set-up question for Friday's United States Senate debate. In my mind, this is nothing more than an attempt to rig the system. This has challenged me to see if I'll be a man of my word. I've campaigned that I'm going to stand for right and this is simply not right. I leave it now to the press and the public to decide whether this kind of politics is acceptable in 2012 Texas. I hope not.”

The controversy led the debate. Cruz said, “I'm glad Craig got my text” and asserted that “there is nothing rigged at all” about the debate. James said the text was “unethical,” and then the debate moved on. Too much lying to do to spend too much time on Republidrama, I guess.

Debate Drivel

Birth control: All the candidates agreed that companies should have the ability to deny women birth control coverage at their discretion.

Border wall: James and Leppert oppose a wall, Dewhurst and Cruz tout “boots on the ground” and a wall in some places.

Favorable parts of Obamacare: Only James says he would keep a provision: children staying on parents' plan until they are 26.

The Dallas Morning News rain a live-blog of the debate, and the Houston Chronicle recapped it.

Attacks and Defense

Cruz needled Dewhurst throughout the debate, especially on Texas' budget. Cruz claimed that Dewhurst “was playing games” and never cut the budget, which Dewhurst denied.

Even the Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater noted that the state budget has increased substantially during Dewhurst's tenure. “Facts are stubborn things, governor,” Slater said. Dewhurst came right back with a classic lie: “I cut state spending,” he said, adding that he made clear a state income tax would pass “over my dead, cold body.” A: gross. B: not having a state income tax has no bearing on whether the state budget increased under his watch.

About midway through, Dewhurst responded directly to the attacks on him from his opponents: “I sometimes get a little confused,” Dewhurst said. “I'm running for the U.S. Senate. Some of my opponents are running against David Dewhurst.”

During the Q&A portion of the debate, James and Dewhurst needled Cruz for not going on record to support Sen. John Cornyn's bid for a GOP leadership position.

Leppert responded to a Cruz question by berating him for not having business experience. “To you, it's really an academic exercise,” Leppert said. “To me, it's a career.”

Democratic candidate Paul Sadler responded to the debate in a release: “What Texans saw tonight at the Republican U.S. Senate debate was a total lack of political courage and real leadership from four disappointing politicians.”

Fundraising and Cruz'n for a Bruisin'

The filing deadline for the first quarter of 2012 was Sunday. Dewhurst raised $1.7 million during the first quarter of 2012 and Cruz raised $1.3 million. Leppert raised “nearly $1 million” and James will release his numbers today.

As the money shows, Cruz is nipping at Dewhurst's heels. Up to this point, the race has been getting relatively little attention. Now, with this debate and the dwindling six weeks until primary day, Dewhurst has to make sure he looks good and Cruz looks bad in the spotlight. Cruz's successful fundraising and high-profile national endorsements make him a target of Leppert's and James' as well, who recognize the need to take him down before they can convincingly take Dewhurst on.

The night before the debate, the Texas Conservatives Fund, Dewhurst's Super PAC run by Dewhurst's former chief-of-staff Rob Johnson, put out a new attack ad on Cruz. “Shattered Vision” calls Cruz a “false conservative” whose law firm has donated over $200,000 to Obama's campaign, sides with Chinese businesses over American ones, and opposed lowering property taxes in 2006. The ad's epic graphics, dark imagery and daunting music make Cruz out to be some sort of Manchurian candidate. Essentially, standard Republican fare, but a sign nonetheless that Dewhurst will be hitting Cruz back hard until Election Day. As The Hill pointed out last week, Cruz wants to be the “Marco Rubio of Texas.”

Dewhurst would sure hate to be the Charlie Crist in that scenario.

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About Author

Ben Sherman

Ben Sherman has been a BOR staff writer since 2011. A graduate of the University of Texas, Ben has worked on campaigns, in political consulting, and has written for other news outlets like Think Progress. Ben considers campaign finance reform the fundamental challenge of our time because it distorts almost every other issue in American politics.

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