Two candidates. Two lecterns. One stage.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Solicitor General Ted Cruz will participate Friday night in their first televised debate since advancing to the Republican U.S. Senate runoff after the May 29 primary.
It will also be the first such event to feature only Cruz and Dewhurst, which is likely to create a different dynamic than previous debates in which they shared the stage with other candidates.
"There is an enormous difference between a multicandidate debate and a two-person debate," said Alan Schroeder, a journalism professor at Northeastern University and expert on campaign debates.
Debates with multiple candidates make it easier for candidates to occasionally lower their guard while attention is on others, Schroeder said. Lengthy stretches of an April televised debate that featured Dewhurst, Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former NFL player Craig James focused on one or two of the candidates while the others were off-camera.
"With a lot of people on the stage you can get away as a candidate without having to work as hard," Schroeder said. "You can’t hang back in a two-person debate. … Really there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide in a two-person debate, which makes it a much more grueling experience."
During the one televised debate among Republican candidates and a separate televised candidate forum, Cruz focused much of his on-camera time criticizing Dewhurst's record. Dewhurst didn't engage Cruz directly as much during the events, but that is likely to change Friday night.
The two candidates will debate for one hour before an audience of Republican voters at the studios of KERA, the Dallas public television affiliate. The Texas Tribune is a partner in the debate. KERA Managing Editor Shelley Kofler will be the moderator.
A panel of journalists including Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey will ask both candidates questions about the issues and their records. Some questions will also come from the audience. Both Dewhurst and Cruz are expected to have an opportunity to direct a question to each other.
The debate will air live at 8 p.m. CST on KERA and stream live at texastribune.org. Dozens of TV and radio stations around the state are planning to either air the debate live or broadcast it over the weekend. The broadcast will also be translated in real time by Univision Texas and offered to Spanish-language broadcasters to air.
On Tuesday, the Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate takes center stage as former state Rep. Paul Sadler of Henderson and retired educator Grady Yarbrough will debate at KERA's Dallas studio. The Tribune is a partner in that event as well. The debate will not air live but be broadcast the following day by KERA and other public media outlets and posted on the Tribune site.
Dewhurst and Cruz will also debate July 17 in a forum sponsored by WFAA-TV in Dallas. The runoffs will be decided by voters on July 31.