Three Republican Senate hopefuls pounced on presumed frontrunner Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Friday night’s Senate debate, which was televised on Belo stations around the state.
The four candidates—Dewhurst, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former ESPN Football Analyst Craig James, and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert—were questioned by moderators on their views on federal spending cuts, Obamacare, and border security.
The evening opened with a discussion of the text Cruz sent to James asking the former ESPN analyst to join him in pressing Dewhurst about his absence at previous debates. Last week, James issued a press release that contained a screengrab of the text, slamming Cruz for trying to “rig” the debate. After clearing the air early on, the two traded laughs about the text exchange later in the evening.
But while James and Leppert were present, their answers seemed merely a distraction from the night’s main event: Cruz’s attacks on Dewhurst. Cruz, polling in second place, spent the evening burnishing his Tea Party credentials (he would overhaul entitlement programs and trim “necessary pork” from the defense budget) and slamming Dewhurst’s position on a range of issues. (Cruz also spent a fair chunk of time getting testy with the moderators.)
A particular sticking point for Cruz was Dewhurst’s stewardship of the budget as lite gov: “I’ll tell you something the lieutenant governor will not tell you: in his entire tenure in public office he has never once cut one penny from the state budget,” Cruz said. “When he was elected the state budget was $116 billion, for the last biennium it was $188 billion dollars. It has increased $72 billion, which is 62 percent. And I don’t consider a $72 billion increase to be a cut,” Cruz said. To this, Dewhurst retorted that he has slashed “billions and billions of dollars” over the years.
On border security, Cruz said the government must “do everything humanly possible to secure the border. That means fences, that means walls, that means technology like helicopters and drones with infra-red. And most importantly, that means boots on the ground.” Cruz touted his plan to triple the size of the border patrol before taking a moment to jab Dewhurst for his support of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and sanctuary cities. Dewhurst denied this and said he was glad Cruz was picking up on his idea of tripling border patrol. “It’s people on the border that absolutely dry up illegal immigration,” Dewhurst said.
When asked whether he would eliminate some of the more popular provisions of the health care law, Cruz said these “goodies” politicians use to buy votes ultimately push up healthcare costs. He then needled Dewhurst for saying Europe sometimes has better healthcare outcomes than America.
While Dewhurst let much of Cruz’s previous attacks wash over him, this jab finally forced a response: “I sometimes get a little confused,” Dewhurst retorted. “I’m running for the U.S. Senate. Some of my opponents are running against David Dewhurst.”
Cruz’s singular focus on Dewhurst became even more obvious when he had the opportunity to ask Leppert a question and asked it about the growth of the state budget under Dewhurst’s tenure. This led Leppert to quip “Ted, I might as well step back and let you ask David.”
On the whole, Leppert gave mostly stock conservative answers and touted his business credentials: (“Let companies…and individuals determine the appropriate type of (birth control) coverage they want to have” and “I believe that you’ve got to deincentivize illegal immigration and secure the border” and “As CEO of companies, I can point to a record of creating real jobs, quality jobs.”)
Throughout the debate, James pushed himself as an advocate of freedom, personal responsibility, and gun rights. On the topic of Obamacare, James gave his qualified support for the provision of the healthcare law that allows young adults to remain on their parents health care plans until they are 26. “The reason that [26-year-olds] are required [to be carried on their parents’ health plans] right now … is that Barack Obama has done a great job in killing our economy,” James said.