U.S. Senate
1:50 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

U.S. Senate Candidates Square Off Tonight

Tonight the top Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate will meet in Dallas for a televised debate.

The debate will feature Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and former SMU Football star and ESPN commentator Craig James. The candidates are vying to fill Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat. Hutchison has announced she will not seek another term.

Jim Henson is the Director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin. He says the debate represents the first time that the U.S. Senate race has taken the full spotlight. It’s been overshadowed by the struggle to set a primary date and by the GOP presidential nomination.

Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst is heavily favored in the race. Henson says that tonight’s debate gives the other candidates an opportunity to get more name recognition and prove themselves as serious contenders.

“The gold ring here is pushing the Lieutenant Governor into a runoff,” said Henson. “If you can push the Lieutenant Governor into a runoff by keeping him under 50 percent, you’ve really achieved something. Particularly given the time of the election since our expectation is that a mid-July runoff is going to be a very low turnout election.”

Henson says the debate is important to all of the candidates for different reasons. He characterizes what they need to do below:

Dewhurst—Needs to play defense, make no mistakes, not give leverage to opponents.

Cruz—Trying to define himself as “true conservative” alternative to Dewhurst. Needs to walk fine line of being critical of Dewhurst without coming off as too negative.

Leppert—Well-known in the Dallas area but needs to increase his name recognition statewide.

James—Has a certain amount of name recognition because of his previous roles but needs to establish himself as a serious candidate instead of just a “celebrity” candidate.

Henson is certain that a recent text message sent from Cruz to James discussing the debate will be brought up. Candidates will be given the chance to pose questions to each other, and James revealed that Cruz asked him to ask Cruz a critical question about Dewhurt’s record—something James characterized as trying to rig the debate. (Follow that?)

The debate starts at 7 p.m. You can watch locally on KVUE or live on the web at WFAA.com.

The GOP Primary is May 29. Early voting starts May 14.