If you were hoping for major fireworks at Thursday night’s U.S. Senate candidate forum, you were probably disappointed.
The six leading candidates to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison kept things mostly civil during the two-hour televised forum in Houston.
With less than two weeks left before early voting starts for the May 29 primary, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN analyst Craig James, all Republicans, and two Democrats — former state Rep. Paul Sadler and Sean Hubbard, a former sales and billing worker in Garland — spent most of the event highlighting their own positions and records rather than attacking one another.
Touching on multiple issues including taxes and immigration, the candidates appeared divided along partisan lines, with the Republicans largely agreeing with one another and the two Democrats in concert.
Before the event, which aired on HoustonPBS/Channel 8 and other public stations across the state, producers repeatedly requested that candidates focus on their own records and positions and refrain from attacking their opponents.
The candidates largely followed that request during individual interviews with moderators until Cruz, the last to be interviewed, came up. Moderators asked him to address recent ads from Dewhurst’s campaign accusing Cruz of helping kill American jobs by representing a Chinese tire company in its appeal of a conviction for intellectual property theft from an American company.
Cruz said that he isn’t the lead lawyer on the case and that he doesn’t support theft of U.S. intellectual property. He added that all the conservative leaders backing his campaign had scared Dewhurst into resorting to lies.
“He’s spending millions of dollars trying to distract voters,” Cruz said.
Asked about the state’s recent fight with federal counterparts over blocking funding to Planned Parenthood for women’s health services, the candidates stuck to partisan positions. Dewhurst said he was proud of the move and the three other Republicans offered support. Cruz noted that he defended the state’s right to defund Planned Parenthood in federal court.
Sadler said it was “ridiculous” that the state was singling out Planned Parenthood when the public money it receives from Texas doesn’t fund abortions.
Hubbard said it was “embarrassing” that state government was trying to make health care decisions on behalf of women.
He noted that his wife visited Planned Parenthood clinics for a period while she didn’t have health insurance.
“She wasn’t going there for abortions. She was going there for cancer screenings,” Hubbard said.
The event was moderated by Dave Fehling and Laurie Johnson, reporters for KUHF News 88.7, and KUHT’s Ernie Manouse.
Candidates were asked what they could do in Congress to help average Americans during a tough economy.
“Do we have an hour?” Dewhurst quipped, before advocating for bringing “the Texas model” of light regulation on businesses to the federal government.
“We’re seeing an avalanche of job-killing regulation” out of Washington, D.C., Dewhurst said.
Leppert agreed that over-regulation was the problem.
“You don’t eliminate all regulation, but at least you get it to be reasonable,” Leppert said.
Cruz repeatedly described the Obama administration as hindering free markets and hurting job growth.
James did not identify any single legislation but said his background in the NFL would help him get things done.
"I would use those skills that I learned as a teammate to be successful in the halls of Congress,” James said.
Hubbard said Congress needs to move forward on banking reform and addressing problems in the housing market.
“Right now our economy is sick, but all we’re doing is addressing the symptom, not the disease,” Hubbard said.
Sadler said that addressing the national debt as a critical goal, but he criticized those who argue that only cutting spending would do the trick.
“It’s going to take extra revenue. … We know if we simply let the Bush tax cuts expire, we can reduce that national debt in half in the next five to nine years,” Sadler said.
Sadler and Hubbard didn’t directly swipe at each other but did highlight their different backgrounds. Sadler cited his history as a “problem solver” in the Legislature, while Hubbard emphasized that Congress needs people who can come to the Senate with fresh ideas and perspectives.
For the last question of the program, moderators asked if the candidates supported the DREAM Act, which would create avenues toward legal residency status for many immigrants who have graduated from high school and have earned some college credit or served in the military. All four Republicans said they opposed it. The two Democrats said they supported it.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.