Which Republican candidate running for U.S. Senate can be the alternative to perceived front-runner David Dewhurst? Dewhurst’s three main challengers all see themselves in that role as they vie for second place and an opportunity to face Dewhurst in a run-off race. KERA’s Shelley Kofler has more on how candidates tried to position themselves during last Friday’s televised debate.
For his opponents, David Dewhurst has become the Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican Senate nomination. He has the most money, the highest name recognition and a list of heavy-hitting endorsements. So, in their attempts to be the alternative, opponents are trying to cast Dewhurst as unresponsive to voters, a political insider and too moderate.
Cruz: He has never once cut one penny from the state budget.
At Friday’s Senate debate former solicitor general Ted Cruz aggressively tried to wound Dewhurst and boost his own chances. Cruz repeated his claims that Dewhurst as lieutenant governor allowed the state budget to grow by using Enron-style accounting.
Cruz: What he has done is move accounts around. Rick Perry in 2003 said David Dewhurst’s quote, “budgetary slights of hand,” reminded him of the character from Popeye, Wimpy: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Under David Dewhurst the state budget has increased $72 billion.
Dewhurst dismissed Cruz’s attacks in his typically measured, low-voltage style.
Dewhurst: The facts that I just heard are wrong. On the state budget Mr. Cruz is getting confused between all-funds, federal funds that come in on transportation and everything. The only dollars we control are our tax dollars which come mainly from our sales tax. And that number has declined 10.7 percent since 2003.
After the debate Cruz told reporters the contest is now between Dewhurst and him.
Cruz: This race has effectively become a two-person choice between a timid, career politician and a strong conservative fighter.
But the other two candidates on the stage don’t see it that way.
Last week Cruz texted former, television sports analyst Craig James, suggesting that when James had an opportunity to question Dewhurst during the debate he should ask Dewhurst about skipping previous debates. James deftly turned the incident into a referendum on Cruz’s ethics and Dewhurst‘s absences.
James: I’ve been campaigning that I’m not going to put up with the same ol’, same ol’ that’s going on out there and I thought it was unethical. I do agree with what Ted’s saying. I mean, David’s not showing up, and I think that David does owe an explanation to the citizens in Texas for why he’s doing this. It’s not shown courage.
James says the race to get into a runoff with Dewhurst is now between him and Cruz, a lawyer.
James: The Senate chamber, the majority in the Senate chamber, are lawyers. We don’t need to send another lawyer to Washington, D.C. And I really believe that what the voters in Texas and this country are looking for are non-politicians.
Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert agrees Cruz as a lawyer doesn’t have what’s needed for the job.
Leppert: The reality of it is that you’ve been a terrific staffer in the attorney general’s office. The reality of it is you haven’t lead businesses.
Leppert claims his business credentials leading an international construction company qualify him and his internal polls show him in second place.
Dewhurst spent most of his career building a multi-million dollar oil and gas business, but Leppert claims Dewhurst’s 13 years in office make him a career politician.
Leppert: You’ve raised over $800 thousand from lobbyists. In fact this election cycle you’ve raised more from lobbyists than Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid. How in the world given that can you say you’re going to be a game changer in Washington?
Dewhurst: It’s money that I have called, I have talked to different donors. Just like you’ve done. Just like Ted’s done. Just like Craig has done. And a lot of the times the companies, the individuals will want to run that through their lobbyists. There’s no one ever has accused me of doing anything but what is right. Leppert says he’s the only opponent with enough money to become the alternative to Dewhurst. He believes the race is just getting started.