WILLIS – Former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz and a surrogate for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s campaign shared a tense moment following a candidate forum Thursday evening, the latest sign that the race is heating up as the July 31 runoff approaches.
Both Republicans in the primary runoff for the open U.S Senate seat were invited to participate in an event hosted by the Montgomery County Eagle Forum. Former Texas Sen. Mike Richards, also a former radio host, attended on behalf of Dewhurst.
Cruz and Richards each spent about 30 minutes addressing a crowd of more than 120 people.
After the event, Cruz walked over to Richards.
“Senator, I want to just thank you for coming out,” Cruz said.
“I would like to feel the same, but I don’t feel it,” Richards said. “I really don’t appreciate you.”
“Well, thank you,” Cruz responded, his smile gone.
“I don’t appreciate how you’ve conducted yourself, how you’ve attacked everybody, how you’ve attacked the governor,” Richards said. “You’ve attacked everybody, and I don’t respect that.”
“Well, your facts are mistaken, but you’re welcome to repeat them,” Cruz said.
Cruz told Richards he respected his passion and had just come over to thank him for participating in the forum.
“If you want to choose to attack me instead, that’s your prerogative,” Cruz said.
Richards responded as if Cruz had twisted his words around.
“I just said I don’t respect you. That’s an attack? That’s exactly what you do, Cruz,” Richards said.
“I respect you even if you don’t respect me," Cruz said and then walked away.
A few minutes later, Richards apologized to Cruz, explaining that his passion had gotten the better of him. Cruz accepted his apology.
The tense exchange occurred after Cruz and Richards elicited very different reactions from the attendees at the forum.
As he walked to the front of the room, Cruz was greeted with loud applause and cheers.
In response to questions from attendees, Cruz said he hoped to see U.S. Attorney Eric Holder impeached and opposed the law that prohibits tax-exempt churches from endorsing candidates from the pulpit.
When asked about whether he viewed Sharia Law as a problem in the United States, Cruz said, “Sharia Law is an enormous problem.”
He described Obama as “radical” and “lawless” and said Dewhurst would constantly compromise if he were the state’s senator.
After a short closing speech, the audience gave Cruz a standing ovation.
Richards received a much cooler reception.
“I feel like a firecracker following a stick of dynamite,” Richards said before going to work defending Dewhurst’s record to the largely pro-Cruz crowd.
It was frustrating to see Dewhurst’s accomplishments and his legislative and business experience being “disrespected,” he told the audience.
“I just happen to admire the man beyond words,” Richards said.
He said that those who put in the years of work to set the stage for the Republican Party’s current dominance in Texas were “being maligned.”
When asked about whether Dewhurst or Cruz could be better trusted to vote conservatively, even at times when it may mean bucking the Republican Party leadership, Richards elicited groans when he said, “I don’t think we’ll know what they do until they get there.”
He criticized Cruz for running an overly negative campaign. Before deciding on who they would vote for in the runoff, he urged attendees to listen to Cruz’s recent radio interview with state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, in which Patrick and Cruz argued over whether Cruz's campaign was too negative.
Richards said this was his first time acting as a surrogate for Dewhurst. After the meeting, he predicted it would be his last.
“I really expected more people would be open and honest,” Richards said.