DALLAS — An hourlong debate between the remaining Republican candidates for U.S. Senate was overshadowed Tuesday night by the announcement that came afterward.
Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert joined Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a post-debate news conference to declare that he was endorsing Dewhurst over former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz in the July 31 runoff.
Leppert, who came in third after Dewhurst and Cruz in the May 29 primary, said he made the decision after meeting with both candidates. He said he left those encounters confident that Dewhurst was the best candidate to go to Congress and cut taxes and the size of government. He cited Dewhurst's background as a businessman as a key factor in his endorsement.
“You can’t pick up a budget for the first time and expect that you’re going to address spending," Leppert said. "The lieutenant governor has dealt with budgets on the public side and the private side. That’s what you need.”
Dewhurst said he had apologized to Leppert for attacks made by his campaign late in the primary including a website, now inactive, called liberaltomleppert.com. He also said he regretted the attacks at "the tail end of the campaign."
Leppert quickly came to Dewhurst's defense, insisting that no two people will ever agree on everything.
"This isn’t a question of being in the weeds," Leppert said. "People need to look at this election, come up to 30,000 feet, understand how critical these ecomonic issues are."
Asked to comment, Cruz campaign manager John Drogin said, "Congratulations Mr. Dewhurst."
The announcement followed a debate in which both Cruz and Dewhurst accused each other of trying to distract voters from the real issues in the race. Cruz accused Dewhurst of making numerous "false personal attacks" instead of focusing on the issues. Dewhurst said that Cruz was distorting his record as lieutenant governor.
The televised debate was the second of the runoff and likely the last. Early voting starts next week.
The candidates are seated at a small table with the moderaters. Cruz and Dewhurst are facing each other.
The two candidates began by going over who will serve as more of a fighter in the U.S. Senate.
“You won’t find anyone at this table more firm or more of a fighter than me,” Dewhurst said. “I served in the military…there’s a difference between being a debater and a fighter.”
Cruz said he has a record, pointing to legal cases of a political nature that he worked on.
“It’s easy to talk about the second amendment…it’s easy to talk about U.S. sovereignty,” Cruz said.
Dewhurst dismissed those cases as a lawyer taking orders from Attorney General Greg Abbott.
“I know you’ve made your legal record the cornerstone of your campaign but contrast that with someone like myself,” Dewhurst said, pointing to his past as a businessman and work in the Legislature.
Dewhurst was on the defensive about whether he supports a guest worker program. Moderator Gromer Jeffers pointed to a 2007 speech in which Dewhurst expressed support for such a program. He then aired recent footage of Dewhurst saying he opposes such a program until the border is secured.
Dewhurst said there was no change in his position, implying that he believes no guest worker program should be enacted until the border is secure.
“This federal government can’t do two things at once,” Dewhurst said.
Cruz accused Dewhurst of trying to hide his record by removing the speech from his website. Dewhurst said the speeches were archived and still available to anyone who contacts his office.
“To imply that there was anything improper done, well I’m not the one who was just fined by the Senate ethics committee,” Dewhurst said.
Cruz said he paid a $200 fee for being late on a personal finance form.
Watson told Cruz that building the wall just along the Texas border could cost $7.3 billion, according to one estimate. Was supporting such an endeavor fiscally conservative?
Cruz said it was because Texans are tired of the federal government failing on securing the border.
Dewhurst spoke about how he advocates for tripling the border patrol and building walls in certain areas.
The candidates were asked if they were in the U.S. Senate when John Roberts was up for confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, would they have voted to confirm him if they knew he would have voted the way he did to keep President Obama's healthcare reform legal.
Dewhurst said he would have voted against Roberts in that hypothetical situation. He accused Roberts of “contorting logic” to keep “Obamacare” legal.
Cruz, who has known Roberts for years and described him as a friend, said he also would not have voted for Roberts in that situation.
The candidates sparred over their possible ties to China.
Cruz accused Dewhurst of airing ads with “false personal attacks” regarding Cruz’s involvement as an appellate lawyer defending a Chinese tire company found liable for intellectual property theft. Dewhurst said he stood by the ads.
Cruz then effectively changed the subject by asking Dewhurst how much money he has invested in china or oversesas.
Dewhurst said he didn’t know. When asked again, he said he didn’t believe he had any investments in China at the present time. Cruz accused Dewhurst of having $200 million “shrouded in secrecy.” Dewhurst said he had taken his money out of a blind trust upon entering the U.S. Senate race and that all of his investments were now public.