The Brief: Top Texas News for July 24, 2012

Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at a U.S. Senate debate in Houston on July 23, 2012.
Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at a U.S. Senate debate in Houston on July 23, 2012.

The Big Conversation:

The first day of early voting sparked the fiercest round of back-and-forth yet between Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Cruz and Dewhurst met in Houston on Monday for their third, and final, televised pre-runoff debate. In front of a mostly pro-Cruz audience of 350 at the headquarters of the King Street Patriots, a Houston-area Tea Party group, the candidates clashed over health care, immigration and the tenor of the campaign, among other issues that have repeatedly popped up in the race.

Under a unique debate format, as the Tribune's Aman Batheja reports, the candidates took questions not from moderators but from voters in the room or from social media. In another twist, the candidates also weren't permitted to rebut any remarks, leaving them virtually free to clobber each other.

In one heated exchange that broke those rules, though, Cruz said Dewhurst had challenged his patriotism in a mailer sent out by the lieutenant governor's campaign highlighting Cruz's work for a Chinese tire-maker ruled to have stolen American designs. "He worked against our country, and lied about it," read the mailer, which Cruz brandished.

"I have to say, Mr. Lieutenant Governor, you're better than this," Cruz said. "This is why people are disgusted with the nasty, personal attack ads."

Dewhurst answered that he had "total respect" for Cruz's patriotism but that he stood by his criticism of Cruz's legal work. "The only thing you can look at is character values," Dewhurst said. "And you’re known by whom you represent."

The audience also figured more prominently in this debate. Though they had been told to stay quiet, one audience member yelled “liar," and another later shouted "not true" — at least one of which appeared to have been directed at Dewhurst. 

The fiery debate came just hours after the campaigns and some surrogates launched a new round of ads. In the most controversial one, released by a Super PAC supporting Dewhurst, a mother ties Cruz's work for a developer involved in a corruption scandal to the suicide of her son.

Culled:

  • Early voting is off to a brisk start — in Bexar County, at least. As the San Antonio Express-News reports, about 6,500 county residents cast ballots on the first day of early voting, far exceeding the 1,500 expected. Early voting continues through Friday.
  • As Texas awaits a federal ruling on its voter ID law, the U.S. Justice Department has launched an investigation into a similar law recently passed in Pennsylvania. The Justice Department, which is seeking records related to the Pennsylvania law, has challenged Texas' measure, claiming that it violates the Voting Rights Act.
  • A year after the Obama administration said it would focus on criminals when determining which illegal immigrants to deport, the backlog of immigration cases in state and federal courts has ballooned. But as the Tribune's Julián Aguilar reports, the government says the data doesn't tell the whole story.

"Absolutely not. Trying to politicize this issue at this time to me is very distasteful." — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Monday when asked whether it was an appropriate time to debate gun restrictions

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