Cruz, Sadler agree to US Senate debate on October 2

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on August 22, 2012 at 5:07 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 22 at 5:59 PM

The campaigns for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Kay Bailey Hutchison will heat up again just after Labor Day.

As part of the general election campaign, Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Paul Sadler will participate in a debate originating from WFAA-TV on Tuesday, October 2 at 7 p.m.

The Belo Debate will be aired statewide again from the Victory Park studio in downtown Dallas.

Like the July 17 debate in the Republican Senate runoff between Cruz and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, WFAA reporter Brad Watson and Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers will ask questions of the candidates in a free flowing format.

The Belo Debate roundtable format with Cruz and Dewhurst let journalists ask questions with followups as much as needed. That's a crucial point for getting concise answers, according to Harvey Kronberg of the Quorum Report, who has covered Texas debates for 20 years.

"What typically happens is the incumbent or the frontrunner wants a debate so structured there's no possible news value to it at all," Kronberg said. "Everything goes back to talking points."

Cruz will face Democrat Paul Sadler this time, and — like the July debate — the candidates can engage each other directly on issues.

Kronberg considers that another advantage for voters watching on television. "Their ability to do a follow-up question or to engage their adversary meant that we ended up with something more approximating what they really believed than what their consultants had pre-written for them," he said.

With Cruz raising millions for TV ads, the stakes will be high for Democrat Sadler, who doesn't have that kind of money, but will get the exposure.

"To do it in this format — where you are going to get to see the best of both candidates and their capacity to think and answer questions — really has more potential to move the needle than anything that's on the scene for the Democrats," Kronberg said.

The risk for Cruz with a larger turnout of 8 to 9 million Texans — including a lot of independent voters — would be tacking too far to the right, according to Kronberg. "What kind of conversation worked in a Republican primary may not be what works for a general election audience," he said. "[Cruz] may find that some of his frontrunner status erodes as a result."

There will be a lot at stake in the October 2 debate, which will be broadcast live on WFAA Channel 8, WFAA.com, and on TXCN cable in two dozen Texas cities.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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