SUGAR LAND – Though their race that has turned increasingly negative in recent weeks, the two Republicans in a primary runoff for Texas' open U.S. Senate seat kept things fairly friendly at a candidate forum on Saturday night.
The more than 200 attendees of the Fort Bend County Tea Party event appeared to appreciate the change in tone, as both Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz repeatedly drew loud applause.
The two candidates took turns answering the same set of questions. Dewhurst went first and Cruz waited outside so he couldn’t hear the questions in advance, organizers said.
On every question of policy, their answers were virtually identical.
Is the country’s southern border a national security issue or a law enforcement issue? Both, they each said, before adding that they supported tripling the size of the border patrol.
When asked if they thought it was appropriate for the president to have a “personal kill list,” both said it was not, but Cruz got a big laugh when he said, “Well number one, I’m worried all of us are on it.”
"Even though one couldn't hear the other one, they actually said a lot of the same kind of thing," said Ed Svoboda, a board member with the Fort Bend County Tea Party. "They really mirrored each other."
Perhaps the most revealing part of the forum was the contrast in the candidates' responses to a question on whether they viewed themselves as a “Tea Party candidate.”
Dewhurst, staring at a crowd in which far more buttons and signs sported Cruz’s name than his own, acknowledged that many of those there were backing his opponent.
“I think that’s wonderful. That’s fine,” Dewhurst said. “I’m here to talk to you as David Dewhurst. I hope at the end, a couple of you all walk away saying ‘Huh, let me learn more about this guy.’”
He then said he was aligned with all the issues of the Tea Party.
When the question was posed to Cruz, the crowd laughed loudly, as if the answer was obvious. Cruz grinned.
“Yes and hell yes,” he said, eliciting cheers.
He then alluded to his longstanding criticism of Dewhurst for not showing up at dozens of Tea Party events over the last year in which all of the Republican candidates in the race were invited.
“How do you build Tea Party support? You go and listen to people and answer their questions. You don’t cut a deal in the backrooms of Austin,” Cruz said.
While both candidates' remarks hewed closely to speeches they have delivered repeatedly on the campaign trail, Dewhurst closed out his appearance with a variation on his usual request for support in the runoff.
After talking about his father, a World War II pilot who was killed by a drunk driver when Dewhurst was 3 years old, he said: "My dad never made his 86th mission. He was fighting for the freedom of the world. ... For the last four years, we’ve had freedoms taken away from us. It’s time to restore those freedoms. I’d like one more mission. Mission 86. Will you join me? Let’s go.”