Texas senatorial candidates Paul Sadler (D) and Ted Cruz (R) went head-to-head in their first debate on Tuesday night. The race is considered by several political analysts to be in Cruz’s favor since Texas is decidedly a Republican state, but Sadler is determined to silence the skeptics and prove that he still has a chance in November.
The first question moderators of the Belo Debate, which aired statewide on television and cable news stations owned by Belo Corp and nationally on CSPAN-1, asked was directed at Mr. Sadler. He was asked how he planned to appeal to independent voters and moderate Republicans to help his campaign. It is an important question because support from those demographics of the state electorate is the best chance the Democratic candidate has of gaining momentum.
“Republicans and independents should support me because of my bipartisan record,” Sadler said. “I have a record of accomplishment.”
During his tenure in the Texas House of Representatives, which spanned from 1991 to 2003, Paul Sadler was named one of the ten best state legislators by Texas Monthly during four consecutive legislative sessions. He received the John B. Connally Excellence in Public Education Award by Just for the Kids in 1995 for his role in bipartisan education reform, which included rewriting the state’s Education Code.
A Democrat has not won a statewide race in Texas since 1994. Mr. Sadler even admitted that the challenge to appeal to Texas voters is great, but he added that an open race is a challenge for any candidate regardless of party affiliation. Many analysts give his campaign a snowball’s chance in the Sahara to win and many Republicans in the state view Sadler as nothing more than the sacrificial lamb in the necessary process for Ted Cruz to ascend to the US Senate seat left vacant by Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Ted Cruz has gained a substantial amount of name recognition since his victory in the GOP primary over Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who was the initial favorite to win. He has become a rockstar in the Tea Party nationally and spoke in a premier slot at the Republican National Convention in September. He has focused the message of his campaign on challenging the policies of the Obama administration and has played it safe going into November by ignoring his opponent as much as he can.
The format of the Belo Debate was not based on a traditional debate structure, which is built on specific rules to keep the debate orderly, civil, and on point. Tuesday night’s debate could be best characterized as a “no holds barred” style of debate with no rules, order, or civility. Moderators asked specific questions, but there was no guarantee that the questions would be answered without interruption or the conversation going off topic, which happened frequently in the back-and-forth between Cruz and Sadler.
The candidates were asked questions on government dependency, the Affordable Care Act, extending the Bush-era tax cuts, matters of foreign policy, and a number of issues that will likely be discussed in the presidential debate on Wednesday. Both men, however, could not resist taking fiery jabs at each other which diverted the focus away from the issues being discussed.
Ted Cruz seemed more interested in Barack Obama than his debate opponent until Sadler pushed him on the issues, calling his positions “crazy” at one point, and claimed that the Republican’s message was from someone with no experience or knowledge in government affairs. Cruz fired back by accusing his opponent of running an “unapologetic liberal campaign” with a message that is solely focused on promoting the president’s policies.
There were numerous distractions that prevented the debate from being informative to viewers. Candidates interrupted each other. Moderators interrupted candidates. Candidates interrupted moderators. Without structure and order the Belo Debate quickly turned into chaos and it was difficult for independent voters to get a clear understanding of what kind of leader each candidate would be.
The current political landscape in Texas puts Paul Sadler in a steep up hill battle to gain momentum before Election Day. Sadler's campaign cites many awards and accomplishments during his years in the Texas Legislature, but his advantage in experience is overshadowed by the fact that voters are not familiar with him. His campaign needs the two debates with Ted Cruz to gain recognition. However, it is unlikely Tuesday’s debate helped those efforts.