Both GOP candidates for U.S. Senate say they are open to scheduling more debates, but the Cruz campaign says Dewhurst is doing everything possible to avoid other offers.
Both candidates have accepted invitations to two debates in Dallas, one on June 22 hosted by PBS affiliate KERA and another on July 17 hosted by WFAA in Dallas. The Texas Tribune is a media partner for the KERA debate.
Dewhurst has said he would would be delighted to accept debate invitations in which the organizer has the means to broadcast the event on television.
Cruz spokesman James Bernsen described Dewhurst on Thursday as "disingenuous" for saying he's in favor of more debates while putting forth caveats and skipping dozens of candidate forums held before last month’s primary.
"Dewhurst limiting to TV is a further symptom of his grassroots problem," Bernsen said.
Dewhurst, attending a "Breakfast with the Troops" event in San Antonio on Thursday, said he likes "to be in a public forum with my opponent."
"I think it creates a huge and clear contrast between a lifelong successful businessman who’s taken his business skills and helped make Texas, along with Gov. Perry, the best state economy in the country … and my opponent," he said.
The Grassroots Texans Network, a coalition of Tea Party groups around the state, has offered to host several debates before the runoff. Cruz accepted. Dewhurst declined.
Network spokeswoman Katrina Pierson said the group’s goal is to see debates between Dewhurst and Cruz held in front of an audience of voters. The two debates planned so far are expected to be taped in studios and closed to the public.
"A grassroots debate would never be a closed studio," Pierson said. "Why would we want to reject citizens from participating in the debate?"
Pierson said network members in Waco, Tyler and other cities are trying to partner with local TV stations to invite both candidates to a televised debate.
Dewhurst’s campaign is not likely to attend any events with ties to Grassroots Texans. Members of the group’s leadership, including Pierson, are outspoken Cruz supporters.
Pierson has been a target of Dewhurst’s campaign this week after she posted a message on Twitter, since deleted, during last weekend's state GOP convention referring to retired Marine Capt. Daniel Moran, an Iraq war veteran. Pierson described Moran's appearance in a Dewhurst video as exploitative and referred to Moran as "deformed."
Pierson has since apologized for her "poor word choice." Cruz’s campaign has also issued a statement distancing itself from Pierson’s remarks.
The Dewhurst campaign has worked to link Pierson to the Cruz campaign and called on Cruz to personally apologize to Moran.
Asked Thursday if the Cruz campaign should be responsible for a comment made by a supporter, Dewhurst declined to say.
"My focus is on Captain Moran, and I appreciate him, I appreciate his service," Dewhurst said. "He’s a real American hero, and we should never criticize our American heroes that have shed blood so that we could be free."
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