Tonight's Belo Debate comes at decisive time in the GOP Senate runoff

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on July 16, 2012 at 7:32 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 17 at 2:18 AM

Tuesday night is your last chance to see Republican U.S. Senate candidates David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz square off.

They will be in the WFAA studios Tuesday night at 7 p.m. for the Belo Debate, which will be broadcast statewide. You can watch it live on Channel 8 or streaming on wfaa.com.

The Cruz-Dewhurst face-off comes less than a week before early voters make their choices — offering little time for either candidate to recover from any misstep.

This is a a close race. Dewhurst got the most votes in the May 29 primary, beating Cruz by double digits, 45 to 34 percent.

But the runoff turnout will likely be smaller, and surveys of likely voters last week showed more of them favor Cruz, and he now appears to be the front-runner.

Appearing Sunday on WFAA's "Inside Texas Politics," Dallas Morning News Austin bureau Chief Christy Hoppe described Dewhurst's challenge for the debate: "That he is somebody who has been in government, knows how to do it and that he has a solid record," she said. "Ted Cruz is a bomb-thrower, saying, 'I'm a fighter; I'm the guy who won't compromise; I'm the guy you want to send to Washington.'"

As the debate is broadcast, the campaign will pick up as well. Look for both sides to start airing more TV and radio ads.

"A lot of them are going to be very, very, very negative," said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. "If you're somebody who listens to talk radio — particularly conservative talk radio — get used to hearing a lot of ads there, and then, you know, the debate that WFAA is going to be sponsoring is going to be really significant."

Tuesday's debate will be the last time Dewhurst and Cruz are scheduled for statewide TV debate. One of these men will likely be the next senator, since Republicans still outnumber Democrats in Texas.

Early voting begins July 23 and continues through the 27th. The runoff Election Day is July 31.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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