HOUSTON - An unusual format made for a unusual debate Monday evening in Houston.
On the first day of early voting in the July 31 primary runoffs, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz participated in their third televised debate of the runoff in an hourlong event hosted by King Street Patriots and Fox 26, a Houston affiliate.
In front of an audience of more than 350 people, the candidates answered about a dozen questions, all of which came from voters in the room or via social media.
Neither candidate was permitted to rebut his opponent’s remarks, creating a situation in which both Dewhurst and Cruz freely attacked one other but found few chances to defend themselves.
Though attendees were told in advance to refrain from audibly responding to either of the candidates during the debate, one attendee yelled, “Liar” and another shouted, “Not true” at different points. The candidates ignored them.
At one point, Cruz accused Dewhurst of “maligning” Cruz’s patriotism with ads about Cruz’s work as an appellate lawyer for a Chinese tire manufacturer. Dewhurst denied that, prompting Cruz to briefly break the rules and challenge Dewhurst to explain what he meant by a mailer that featured Cruz’s face in front of a Chinese flag.
Dewhurst senior adviser Jim Bognet said after the debate that the Dewhurst campaign was questioning Cruz’s “judgment and values, not his patriotism."
This was the fifth televised event for Republicans Dewhurst and Cruz, after one debate and one candidate forum during the primary, each of which also featured other candidates, and two previous one-on-one debates during the runoff.
Both candidates plan to spend the week furiously campaigning across the state, trying to turn out their voters and using the influence of prominent Republicans to help them do it. Dewhurst voted early Monday morning in Austin alongside Gov. Rick Perry. Cruz will appear at a rally in Dallas with pundit Glenn Beck and former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey on Friday — the last day of early voting before the Tuesday, July 31 election.
“We’re in this runoff because conservatives have united across the state of Texas,” Cruz said.
Working under Attorney General Greg Abbott, he says he successfully defended the Pledge of Allegiance, the 10 Commandments and U.S. soverignty.
If elected, Dewhurst said he would focus on repealing "Obamacare," bringing the Texas model of government in Washington, getting government “out of the way” of business, tripling the size of the border patrol and reinstating family values.
"Barack Obama is taking freedoms away from us," Dewhurst said.
Both candidates said they would repeal all of President Obama's federal healthcare reform. Dewhurst said he wanted to replace it with free-market reforms.
Cruz repeated an earlier attack, accusing Dewhurst of saying that US has "inferior outcomes" to some socialized countries in Europe.
“that’s based on left wing studies and I also don’t think it’s the role of government to be micromanaging the outcomes” of private healthcare services, Cruz said.
Both candidates spoke about the need of getting government out of the way of the private sector. Both are also in favor of encouraging more domestic energy production.
Dewhurst ran out of time before he could address space exploration. Cruz said he strongly supports the space program and called space exploration “integral” to our defending the country.
Cruz answered first.
“From day one, my campaign has kept the focus on the issues. What we’re talking about tonight is amnesty and payroll tax and the Lt. Gov’s record and my record," Cruz said. He said his father received a Dewhurst attack mailer in the mail that featured Cruz's head in front of a Chinese flag.
“I have to say Lt. Gov, you’re better than this…Do you stand by maligning my patriotism?” Cruz said.
Dewhurst said he was campaigning for Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign in Iowa in early January when he learned the Club for Growth was running attack ads against him.
“From day one, since I got in this race, I have been running for United States Senate…since day one, my opponent has been running against me,” Dewhurst said.
“Not true,” a woman from the audience called. Dewhurst kept speaking. He said he and Cruz agree on "virtually every issue.
"You’re known by who you represent so when you choose to represent," Dewhurst said. He noted two of Cruz's clients that he often criticizes Cruz for taking on: a Chinese tire company found liable for stealing designs from an American company and a Pennsylvania developer accused of bribing judges.
“There’s no question you’re a strong patriot,” Dewhurst said.
“Why does your mailer say differently?” Cruz asked.
“It doesn’t say that Ted,” Dewhurst said. He offered to talk with Cruz about it later. Cruz asked why they couldn’t talk about it now. The debate moderator reminded the candidates that rebuttals were not going to be permitted. Dewhurst returned to answering the original question.
Cruz spoke about his work on a second amendment case before the U.S . Supreme Court and his receiving an award from the NRA in 2010.
Dewhurst said he had been endorsed by the NRA.
“The NRA has not endorsed you,” Cruz said.
“I stand corrected,” Dewhurst said. “You are absolutely right. The local people, the local people have.”
Both Cruz and Dewhurst praised the Castle Doctrine and, more broadly, the right of individuals to bear arms.
Echoing a Dewhurst line from earlier in the program, Cruz said, "“I very much agree with my opponent. We need doers."
He spoke about his work fighting for conservative causes before the Supreme Court.
We have seen conservatives all over the state of Texas to come together in this campaign," Cruz said. He listed several conservative leaders who have endorsed before running out of time.
Dewhurst said voters need to pick the candidate with the "character, values and judgment" to represent Texas.
“If Texas were as bad as my opponent keeps saying in these ads, Texas would look like California," Dewhurst said. "Texas is a good state. I'm proud of Texas."