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Texas U.S. Senate debate: Cruz, O’Rourke clash on immigration, energy policy, taxes and Trump

Final face-off comes with President Donald Trump poised to head to Texas to campaign for Cruz

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Watch full debate on Twitter

SAN ANTONIO (CFP) — Meeting to face-to-face for the second and likely last time, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, sparred over immigration and border security, energy, health care, abortion, tax cuts and, no surprise, President Donald Trump, who is about to bring his rally roadshow to Texas on Cruz’s behalf.

O’Rourke and Cruz meet in Oct. 16 debate (Courtesy KENS)

Throughout the October 16 debate in San Antonio, Cruz painted O’Rourke as an extremist beholden to “left-wing national activists” who supports “socialized medicine” and whose views are out of step with most conservative Texans.

O’Rourke, in turn, accused Cruz of being “all talk and no action” and more interested in his national political ambitions and the welfare of corporate interests than representing the people of his state in the Senate.

The sharpest exchanges came when Cruz charged that O’Rourke supported a plan to impose a $10-a-barrel tax on oil, which he said would negatively impact the state’s oil and gas industry, and the congressman insisted that the senator was mischaracterizing his record.

“This is what you can expect over the course of this debate. Senator Cruz is not going to be honest with you,” O’Rourke said. “He’s going to make up positions and votes that I’ve never held or have never taken. He’s dishonest. It’s why the president called him ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ and it’s why the nickname stuck, because it’s true.”

Cruz fired back, saying “it’s clear Congressman O’Rourke’s pollsters have told him to come out on the attack.”

“If he wants to insult me and call me a liar, that’s fine. But John Adams famously said that facts are stubborn things,” said Cruz, who added that he would ”post proof of O’Rourke’s oil tax vote on his website. The explanation on Cruz’s website states that O’Rourke refused to support a resolution opposing President Barack Obama’s proposal for increasing the tax on oil.

Cruz also said O’Rourke, if elected, would push for Trump’s impeachment, which would lead to “two years of a partisan circus shutting down the federal government in a witch hunt on the president.”

O’Rourke retorted that it was “really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the United States Senate.”

Cruz also touted his work on the tax cut bill recently passed by Congress, saying it had brought marked improvement to the Lone Star State’s economy.

“Texas is booming. We’ve got the lowest unemployment we’ve had in 49 years,” he said. “We’re seeing record growth.”

But O’Rourke, who opposed the tax cut plan, said it would add $2 trillion to the deficit. He said he supported a partial raise in the corporate tax rate, which could be used to improve universal access to health care through expanded access Medicare and Medicaid.

Cruz dismissed O’Rourke’s health care plan as “socialized medicine” and said income tax rates would have to be tripled  to pay for it. He also noted his consistent support for repeal of Obamacare, although he pushed back when O’Rourke charged that he wanted to take away coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions mandated in the current health care law.

On abortion, Cruz said O’Rourke was on “extreme pro-abortion side” by not supporting restrictions on late-term abortions and supporting taxpayer funding of abortions through Medicaid. He also said the congressman would push for confirmation of “left-wing judicial activists who impose their own policy positions from the bench” on issues such as abortion and gun control.

O’Rourke did not back away from his support for legal abortion, telling the debate audience that would only vote to confirm Supreme Court justices who will support a woman’s right “to make her own decisions about her own body.”

The candidates also differed on Trump’s proposed physical border wall on the U.S-Mexico border, with Cruz in support and O’Rourke in opposition.

“No wall is going to solve legitimate security concerns,” O’Rourke said, calling for increased spending on customs infrastructure to improve the flow of goods and people across the border.

Cruz responded that O’Rourke “not only opposes a wall … he wants to tear down the ones we have.”

The candidates’ second encounter in San Antonio is the last scheduled debate between them before the November 6 election.

Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.

O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.

His campaign has excited the Democratic base, drawing large crowds and media attention in a state that hasn’t seen a competitive Senate race in 30 years.

O’Rourke has also raised a staggering $51 million for the race, including $38 million in the last quarter, which set an all-time quarterly record for fundraising by a Senate candidate. Cruz has so far raised $35 million for the entire race.

Still, the odds against a Democrat in Texas are daunting. A Democrat has not won a Senate race since 1988; Republicans have won the last nine Senate races by an average margin of 19 percent.

The last five public polls in the race have shown Cruz with a lead, but none of those leads have been outside the poll’s margin of error, which indicates that the race is still too close to definitively say either man has a lead.

Despite an often contentious relationship between Cruz and Trump during the 2016 presidential race, the White House has announced that the president will travel to Houston on October 22 for a campaign rally with the senator.

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