DALLAS — Facing one another for the first time Tuesday night, U.S. Senate candidates Ted Cruz and Paul Sadler fired fierce political jabs during an hour-long debate that often found the two veering off-topic to question one another’s ideals.
Cruz and Sadler — both former trial lawyers — entered the Belo Debate on different footings. Cruz, the Republican, has raised millions of dollars more than his Democratic challenger and leads by nearly 26 percentage points, according to a nonpartisan poll issued hours before the debate began.
Sadler wasted little time once the cameras began rolling, aggressively pressing Cruz to agree to another four debates.
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday, Sadler alleged that Cruz was ducking invitations to debate him –– the same criticism Cruz levied against his opponent David Dewhurst in the Republican primary.
Currently, Cruz has agreed to just two debates: Tuesday’s — which was hosted at WFAA's Victory Park studio — and another on October 19 at Dallas-based PBS affiliate KERA.
“Why can’t we have another debate? Why not six? Why not the one in Houston? What are you afraid of?” Sadler asked, referring to Cruz having turned down an invitation at Houston’s PBS station.
Cruz shot back, accusing his opponent of trying to drum up more face time with the media, adding: “It’s not our obligation to help you in that.”
“You have an obligation to face the voters of Texas,” Sadler responded. Cruz' calm reply: “You can launch every attack you want to launch at me, right now, on television, in an unscripted, un-moderated forum; this is a roundtable.”
“You know I know you don’t know enough about government,” Sadler answered.
The early exchange was a teaser of what was to come –– a fast paced blitz that often slid off in myriad directions away from the topics presented by the moderators. Instead, the candidates frequently posed their own questions to one another almost whenever an opening presented itself.
A topic regarding President Barack Obama’s health care reform morphed into whether Cruz would support U.S. Sen. John Cornyn as the Majority Whip in the United States Senate.
When discussing what to do about the1.65 million illegal immigrants living in Texas, Cruz weaved into the Second Amendment, alleging his opponent didn’t support gun rights.
“What does this have to do with the question?” Sadler asked before fiercly denying his opponent's allegation.
WFAA political reporter Brad Watson and Dallas Morning News politics writer Gromer Jeffers, who both moderated the debate, frequently had to try and guide each candidate back on topic.
But even through this sometimes-chaotic back-and-forth, the two candidates owned their distinctively different political views. Cruz again cemented his vow to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, while Sadler said Congress can’t afford to take away the benefits the reform has offered to young adults and the elderly.
Cruz again said he didn’t support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in America, while Sadler said the opposite, as expected.
But the off-the-cuff moments showed another side to the race that the public hasn’t yet seen.
Take the moment toward the end of the debate when Cruz accused Sadler of supporting a state income tax during his tenure as a state representative.
“I had the responsibility of looking at the tax system of Texas, something you wouldn’t know anything about because you’ve never served in the Legislature,” Sadler told his opponent. “What you don’t do is do your job as a legislator worried that some troll will come along 10 years later or 20 years later and try to run a campaign against you.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Sadler, you believe I’m a troll,” Cruz replied.
Sadler and Cruz are contending for the Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. A Democrat hasn’t won statewide office in Texas since 1994.
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