Lite Guv David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz clobbered each other Monday night during the final debate before the Republican Senate runoff. But each blow was unreturned, thanks to a curious quirk of the set-up for the televised debate.

According to the Texas Tribune‘s Aman Batheja, “Neither candidate was permitted to rebut his opponent’s remarks, creating a situation in which both Dewhurst and Cruz freely attacked one other but found few chances to defend themselves.”

The crowd, gathered inside the office of Houston’s King Street Patriots, a Tea Party group, seemed to largely favor Cruz, as the Austin American Statesman‘s Kate Alexander’s noted. “It was clearly Cruz country based on the reception the audience members gave as each of the candidates entered the room. Dewhurst earned a polite round of applause, while Cruz drew whoops and a standing ovation,” she wrote. 

With the candidates taking similar stands on most policy issues, the candidates got bogged down in the “politics of the personal,” the Houston Chronicle‘s Joe Holley wrote, with the candidates accusing “each other of lying about their respective records and waging a media war marked by untruth and insult.”

The pair touched upon their distaste for the federal health care law and gun control, described how they would fuel growth in the private sector, and traded barbs over who was the bigger patriot. 

In his liveblog, Batheja recounted the latter exchange, which broke the rules of the debate:

“From day one, my campaign has kept the focus on the issues. What we’re talking about tonight is amnesty and payroll tax and the Lt. Gov’s record and my record,” Cruz said. He said his father received a Dewhurst attack mailer in the mail that featured Cruz’s head in front of a Chinese flag.

“I have to say Lt. Gov, you’re better than this…Do you stand by maligning my patriotism?” Cruz said.

A few minutes later, Dewhurst responded:

Dewhurst began an answer to a question to respond to Cruz’s allegation that Dewhurst has questioned Cruz’s patriotism.

“There’s no question you’re a strong patriot,” Dewhurst said.

“Why does your mailer say differently?” Cruz asked.

“It doesn’t say that Ted,” Dewhurst said. He offered to talk with Cruz about it later. Cruz asked why they couldn’t talk about it now. The debate moderator reminded the candidates that rebuttals were not going to be permitted.

Early voting for the July 31 runoff election began on Monday, and both candidates have a busy schedule for the rest of the week. “Both candidates plan to spend the week furiously campaigning across the state, trying to turn out their voters and using the influence of prominent Republicans to help them do it. Dewhurst voted early Monday morning in Austin alongside Gov. Rick Perry. Cruz will appear at a rally in Dallas with pundit Glenn Beck and former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey on Friday,” Batheja wrote.

TEXAS MONTHLY’s Paul Burka was impressed by Dewhurst’s performance, finding him less wooden than normal, but noted, at this point in the race, “it may not matter.” As Burka wrote,

If Cruz wins the race, the Dewhurst campaign will go down in Texas political history as one of the worst that has ever been run–and one of the biggest upsets since Rick Perry defeated Jim Hightower in 1990. Dewhurst had every advantage–name I.D., money, conservative record, Rick Perry’s endorsement. Cruz had nothing except the ability to connect with the far right. But based on where the energy is in the Republican party, that may be all Cruz needs.

Burka noted that Cruz and Dewhurst mainly agreed on all policy points, aside from their differing stances on amnesty (which Dewhurst supported in 2007.) And, from a practical perspective, Dewhurst and Cruz would conduct themselves in the Senate almost identically, Burka opined:

The truth is that, if elected to the Senate, Cruz and Dewhurst would vote alike 99% of the time. They would likely differ on only one vote that would matter, and that is the vote for Republican whip. Jim DeMint, of South Carolina, is seeking the position, and so is John Cornyn of Texas. You would think that a senator from Texas would support a colleague from his home state, but DeMint got Cruz into the race and helped fund him. The odds are overwhelming that Cruz will vote for DeMint, perhaps casting the deciding vote that would rob Texas’s soon-to-be senior senator from achieving the number two position in the Republican hierarchy.

UPDATE: TEXAS MONTHLY received the following e-mail from a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) Tuesday afternoon:

Senator DeMint has not sought and does not plan to seek a Senate leadership post and reports to the contrary are simply false. Please correct this story. Thank you.

Burka published a response to this message on his blog:

Senator DeMint is in line to become chairman of the Commerce Committee, a powerful panel, assuming that Republicans honor his seniority. He has also expressed a desire to be a member of the Finance Committee. As for Cornyn, I also came across a reference to him in a story from Roll Call, which described Cornyn’s support from his colleagues as “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

I see nothing wrong with raising the issue of how Cruz will vote for Republican whip. This ought to be an easy vote for a Texas senator. If Cornyn is elected whip, he would be next in line to succeed Mitch McConnell as majority leader. The last Texan to hold that position was Lyndon Johnson. While many readers may scoff at “politics as usual” involving one’s home state, Texas sends a huge amount of tax dollars to Washington. Getting something back is important. Money for highways and the huge military installations at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss are crucial to this state. Whether DeMint runs for whip or not, Texas needs a senator who will protect the state’s interests.