After almost three months of exchanges on social media and jabs back-and-forth, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro sat down in a debate with State Sen. Dan Patrick, the front-runner in the Republican race for lieutenant governor.
Securing the international border is something both men agreed on early, but Castro came out swinging at Patrick minutes later.
"For you, border security is a red herring,” the mayor charged. “You're not really about fixing the problem. You're about demagoguing it to get more votes."
- REPLAY: Watch the Castro-Patrick debate
The exchange in a San Antonio TV studio got testy at times when the two would interrupt each other. On several occasions, Patrick told Castro not to patronize him.
"I'm not anti-immigrant," the senator said. "I'll tell you what, Mayor — for the rest of the evening, let's leave the politics out.
When Castro started to interrupt, Patrick cut in: "Wait a minute; excuse me. Let's leave the politics out. We're here. The whole purpose was to have a serious discussion."
There were some clearer positions staked out in the debate.
"If you had the power suddenly to deport everybody who is in this country illegally, would you do it?” asked Evan Smith, debate moderator and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune.
“Absolutely not,” Patrick said. “That's not where Republicans stand.”
Castro asked why Patrick only focused on border security rather than also addressing the millions who came to the U.S. legally, but then overstayed their visas.
Patrick opposes a path to citizenship for them, while Castro supports the concept.
“I believe they should be allowed to earn citizenship,” the mayor said. “What does that mean? First of all, they have to pay back taxes. Pay a fine. Learn English. They have to go to the back of the line so they don't have to hopscotch people who have applied legally."
The hour-long debate at KWEX-TV in San Antonio was three months in the making. It started on Twitter when Castro called Patrick “the most anti-immigrant Republican running statewide.”
Patrick responded and tweeted that "talk is cheap," suggesting that the two meet to debate immigration.
When they were face-to-face in the TV studio, Patrick blamed Congress for failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
But the senator toned down recent rhetoric like "illegal invasion" that is still featured on a donor page of his website. Patrick also stood firm on opposing in-state tuition for undocumented students, but still seemed to be on the defense in the conversation.
"Out there on Twitter, in front of the Alamo in your campaign, you've been huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf; now you're dancing around like Little Red Riding Hood on this issue," Castro said.
“I don't know what is so hard to understand, Mayor, that we have to end illegal immigration and have responsible legal immigration so people can come to America in dignity and not in fear," Patrick said later.
The debate is non-binding since these men aren't running against each other. Patrick faces David Dewhurst in a Republican run-off for lieutenant governor on May 27.
Minutes after the debate ended, Dewhurst sent out a statement calling the previous hour “empty exchanges,” “name calling” and “wild tangents,” and said he was the only candidate who has a track record of trying to secure the border.
"I'm the one candidate that all Democrats fear, and that's why all of you have been attacking me,” Patrick said, “because you know I'm going to go out like I am tonight I have the courage to talk about public policy.”
“Actually, you're our meal ticket back in," Castro interrupted to laughs.
The mayor and the senator are both rising stars in their own parties, and are the politicians likely to lead — from two different perspectives — on an important issue Texas faces daily.