In the first debate of this political season, Gov. Rick Perry didn't fall on his face. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison didn't, either. Each worked in the kinds of lines that please supporters without creating many new ones, but neither landed a knockout punch. For a politician with a reputation to protect, that's the description of a win.
If the third candidate on the Denton stage didn't win some new fans, or votes, Debra Medina at least held her own in her first and perhaps only debate with the two Republican heavyweights. Medina cast Hutchison and Perry as insiders in federal and state governments that aren't working right for average Texans, touted her proposal for ending property and business margin taxes (to be replaced by higher sales taxes she thinks would be more fair), blasted their immigration policies. We even learned she doesn't pack a gun when she's in the grocery store, where it's illegal.
Each of the three claimed victory. The real winner, probably, was Medina, who doesn't have the money to advertise statewide or to travel as broadly and quickly as the other two Republicans in the race. Thursday night was her best chance yet to get in front of voters, and she hung in with the two more experienced professional pols.
She, like Hutchison, directed her fire at Perry, who was forced to defend himself on eminent domain and transportation, on budgets and taxes, and even on the economy he's been touting as his biggest achievement as the state's top elected official since 2000.
Perry didn't shoot much at Medina, but goaded Hutchison about her votes for rising federal spending and deficits, for her support for abortion rights secured by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, and for being a creature of Washington (an attack echoed in an ad campaign he started on the day of the debates).
We have three related stories:
• Ben Philpott's report on the debate from the standpoint of a voter hearing all of this for the first time
• And our live blog, chronicling the back-and-forth as it unfolded.
A full version of the debate is available on the sponsor's site, here.
The Texas Debates were produced by KERA in partnership with CBS 11 (KTVT-TV) and TXA 21 (KTXA-TV), Fort Worth Star-Telegram, KUVN Univisión 23, Texas Association of Broadcasters (TAB), Texas State Network, and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. Hutchison and Perry — but not Medina — have been invited to a Belo Corp. debate on January 29. The candidates for the Democratic nomination are still talking to potential debate sponsors and haven't yet agreed to anything.