The major Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate knocked heads Thursday night in a debate that was a good deal livelier than the presidential forums that have become a TV mainstay.

It didn't change the layout of the race, but if it takes a while to actually hold primaries, several of the candidates could gain on the frontrunner, or at least make the race more entertaining.

They're certainly trying. Several candidates threw verbal punches at Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, while the guy in the back in the polls, Magnolia funeral home director Glenn Addison, turned out to be the evening's crowd pleaser. He might not have gained any votes, but his one-liners and funny stories had everyone talking.

None of the candidates had any immediately apparent campaign-altering gaffes. Most of the jabs were between Dewhurst, Ted Cruz and Tom Leppert, who've been in the race the longest and who were raising significant amounts of money in the last reports. Craig James, the fifth man on stage, hasn't yet reported his campaign finances.

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Of the five, Dewhurst seemed least at ease on the stage. That said, he did well enough to hold his place. It's the other candidates who have to win people over — not the sitting Lite Guv.

At the top of the debate, Cruz, the state's former solicitor general, criticized Dewhurst for not coming to most of the other candidate forums up until now. Leppert, a former Dallas mayor, criticized the two of them as career political figures while touting himself as a businessman, and Dewhurst touted his record as lieutenant governor and his ability to cut budgets and taxes.

The responses were limited to just a few minutes each, and the pace was lively. The Texas Public Policy Foundation and Empower Texans sponsored the debate, which took place before a partisan Republican crowd of several hundred people.

Cruz was the crowd favorite, if applause and shouts are the measure, and James is a former TPPF board member.  

The question is whether anyone can catch on and pull together enough money to give Dewhurst a race. If the primaries are delayed, they'll have more time to try.

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