On Most Major Issues, Cruz and Dewhurst Agree
For the two Republican U.S. Senate runoff candidates, who have been running against each other for almost a year, the question directed at them during last week's televised debate could not have been more straightforward.
A minute later, neither had identified an area of disagreement.
Allan Saxe, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington, said that considering how contentious the race had been, nothing stood out during the debate.
"I couldn’t see much difference at all between them," Saxe said. "I think they should have just folded up after 15 minutes and gone home."
Campaigns and outside groups have invested more than $25 million in convincing Texas voters that Dewhurst and Cruz would be vastly different senators. Millions more are likely to be spent before the July 31 runoff, in which two Democrats are also campaigning for their party’s nomination for the seat.
Yet Cruz’s and Dewhurst’s speeches, campaign websites and responses to questions show there is little daylight between them on matters likely to come before the Senate.
On a wide range of issues at the front of Republican voters' minds, Cruz and Dewhurst essentially agree.
Both favor repealing President Obama’s health care law, amending the U.S. Constitution to require that Congress pass balanced budgets and outlawing abortions in all cases except those in which the mother’s life is in danger. They both oppose the DREAM Act and believe the size of the U.S. Border Patrol needs to be tripled.
Cruz said he supported moving the country "as close as possible to a flat tax or to the Fair Tax." Dewhurst has said he supports "a fairer tax, a flatter tax."
Actual policy differences between the candidates are exceedingly narrow.
Cruz thinks the government should build a wall along the southern border. Dewhurst says he supports walls at parts of the border where they would be most effective.
Both candidates favor term limits but disagree on whether it makes sense for a single member of Congress to observe a self-imposed limit.
Dewhurst has pledged to serve no more than two terms. Cruz has not, saying that such a vow would put Texas at a disadvantage, as senators from other states stayed in office longer and amassed seniority and influence.
Both candidates have called for abolishing the Department of Education and the Transportation Security Administration, as well as curtailing the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies. However, Cruz also supports abolishing the Commerce and Energy Departments, the IRS and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The candidates also appear to differ slightly on the relatively arcane race for Senate Republican whip, a position decided on by the party’s Senate members. Dewhurst has pledged support to Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and says Cruz’s reluctance to commit to the same raises questions about Cruz’s loyalty to his home state’s success. Cruz has said it would be "presumptive" to say whom he is supporting for the job before he is in the Senate.
Requests to the campaigns for policy disagreements revealed differences on two measures that came before the Senate over the last year.
In February, Congress voted to extend expiring payroll tax cuts without cutting spending to pay for them. Cruz said at the time that the tax cut was not "optimal" but that he still supported it. Dewhurst opposed the measure as a "short-term political decision" and criticized Republicans for not using the opportunity to reform the tax code or entitlements.
Dewhurst has pushed more aggressively on differences over whether the U.S. should penalize China for manipulating its currency. A bill that passed the Senate last year would impose tariffs on Chinese goods if certain entities determined that the yuan was being suppressed. Dewhurst supported it. Cruz described the bill as the wrong approach.
"I think we need to be vigorous in dealing with China," Cruz told the conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on her show last year. "But I think it’s a mistake to try to start a trade war with them."
Ingraham replied: "You’re killing me on this, dude. The trade war is on, and we’re losing it."
The Dewhurst campaign has used snippets of that interview in advertisements accusing Cruz of siding with the Chinese over Americans. Dewhurst has argued that Cruz’s opposition to the bill is tied to his work as an appellate lawyer for a Chinese tire company that has been judged liable for stealing designs from an American businessman.
James Bernsen, a spokesman for Cruz, noted that several Republicans in the Senate had opposed the bill and said Dewhurst was focusing on it to draw attention away from his own record.
"The voters of Texas aren’t buying it," Bernsen said.
With few significant policy differences between them, both candidates have framed the race as one of rhetoric versus results.
Dewhurst takes credit for many conservative measures passed during his tenure as lieutenant governor and insists that his record is equivalent to that of Gov. Rick Perry, who has endorsed Dewhurst. Texas needs a senator with his experience to bring the Texas model of government to Washington, he says.
"I know that my record is exactly what Cruz is talking about wanting to do," Dewhurst said on MSNBC this month.
Cruz often signals his conservative views by pointing to politically charged cases he has worked on, like defending the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on public property and working to strike down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban. Such efforts, Cruz says, show he is the true "fighter" in the race.
Cruz also regularly mentions his support by U.S. senators regarded as occupying the Tea Party wing of the Senate, and he has talked about becoming a member of that group if elected.
Cruz has dismissed Dewhurst as a conciliator and argued that conservative success in the Legislature had often occurred in spite of Dewhurst. He recently accused Perry of supporting Dewhurst only in an effort to "get him out of Austin," a charge Perry denied.
Dewhurst has said Cruz does not understand how the Legislature has been able to pass so many conservative measures. Every conservative victory over the last several years "I’ve had to bleed and carry over the goal line," Dewhurst said at a recent event in Kerrville.
With one month left until the runoff, policy debates are likely to remain rare.
At last week’s debate, both candidates gave nearly identical answers on a question about energy production. Cruz said agreement between the candidates on that issue was not surprising and beside the point.
"Look, every candidate for office in Texas says they support oil and gas," Cruz said. "Unless you are a blithering idiot, that's the right thing to say. The heart of my campaign has always been a proven record. Have you walked the walk?"