DALLAS - Bitter rivals vying for Texas' Republican U.S. Senate nomination traded a few barbs during a televised debate Friday, but they largely agreed on the key issues, including illegal immigration, health care reform and foreign policy.
In fact, the biggest shot of the night came after the debate, when tea party favorite and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz told reporters that Gov. Rick Perry has only endorsed his opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, because he's tired of working with him and wants him to leave Texas.
Cruz is a fiery orator and former debate champion, and he went on the offensive early in the debate against Dewhust, the mainstream Republican favorite in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Cruz accused Dewhurst of being too moderate and using his position as head of the Texas Senate to kill a bill last year that would have given police more power to ask anyone they detain about their citizenship status -- a charge Dewhurst denied.
Both candidates agreed that the U.S. has failed to secure its border with Mexico, and said they oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants and the Obama administration's new directive allowing many young illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to be exempted from deportation.
Dewhurst won last month's primary by 10 percentage points but didn't capture an outright majority in a nine-candidate field -- necessitating a runoff election July 31. His race with Cruz mirrors campaigns across the country that have pitted veteran Republicans against little-known challengers, with both sides claiming to represent conservative values.
Friday's debate at KERA in Dallas was the first of at least two planned before the runoff.
The candidates both said they are against the recently approved Texas Republican Party platform that supports a guest worker program for illegal immigrants.
They both promised to try to repeal the Obama administration's health care reform, gave proposals to overhaul social security that overlapped broadly, and pledged to get the federal government out of the way and keep the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing pollution controls they claimed would kill jobs.
They agreed that the U.S. should not commit to military action in Syria, and said that while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began for noble reasons, they went on too long. Only a bit of disagreement came when Dewhurst said the Obama administration pulled combat troops out of Iraq too soon and should have left some behind.
Both candidates said they wouldn't authorize blanket cuts to the U.S. defense budget to balance the federal budget -- but agreed there were areas where even military spending could be trimmed back. They also agreed on the need to expand energy exploration, with Cruz saying, "unless you are a blithering idiot, that's the right thing to say."
The most awkward moment came when the candidates were allowed to ask each other a question, and Cruz demanded to know if Dewhurst had supported a statewide payroll tax. "I've never supported a wage tax," Dewhurst said. Then he added, "Um..." and trailed off.
Cruz also chided Dewhurst for "repeatedly compromising with Democrats" while overseeing key legislation in the state Senate. Dewhurst responded, "I have never compromised my conservative principles once."
"Now, yes I've negotiated," he added. "I've negotiated to try and get the requisite number of votes so we can pass bills."
Cruz claimed that taxes had increased 49 percent since 2003, when Dewhurst became lieutenant governor. Dewhurst responded that national conservative groups -- including the Club For Growth, which is supporting Cruz -- have rated Texas' tax record excellent in recent years. "It's a fact," he said. "Facts are stubborn my friend."
Also backing Cruz are the Tea Party Express and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Perry has endorsed Dewhurst, who says he and the governor have been responsible for making Texas one of the most conservative states in the country.
But immediately after the debate, Cruz turned some heads when he suggested Perry fought with Dewhurst over state government spending increases and was only backing Dewhurst now because he no longer wants to work with him as lieutenant governor.
"It is in his political interest to get rid of David Dewhurst, and get him out of Austin and send him somewhere else," Cruz said, referring to Dewhurst's time in the state capital.
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