Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and his challenger for re-election, El Paso U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, will hold three debates over the six weeks-plus that remain in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election, their campaigns announced in dueling press releases late Friday afternoon.
The first of the debates will be held one week from today at SMU. The 60-minute showdown, moderated by KXAS political reporter Julie Fine and The Dallas Morning News' Gromer Jeffers, will focus on domestic policy.
Nine days later in Houston, Cruz and O'Rourke will square off over similar topics in a town-hall format. The final contest is set for Tuesday, Oct. 16, in San Antonio. The San Antonio debate will devote 30 minutes to domestic policy and 30 minutes to foreign policy.
Throughout his insurgent campaign to depose Cruz, O'Rourke has insisted that he wants to debate the incumbent as often as possible. Initially, O'Rourke suggested six debates, four in English and two in Spanish, before eventually settling on six debates in English when Cruz said he wasn't fluent enough in Spanish to debate. In late July, the Cruz campaign proposed five debates in the three months leading up to the election.
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Despite getting an offer that was close, in number at least, to what he'd proposed, O'Rourke balked at Cruz's suggestion because of the restrictions it would've imposed, like each debate being held on a Friday night during high school football season and the fact that Cruz's camp would've dictated the topics discussed.
While Cruz has yet to trail O'Rourke in any of the major polls that have been released in their race, it's clear that he feels some pressure from his challenger.
"It's definitely a risk. You're providing Beto O'Rourke with a platform that you don't need to provide him with," Rice University political science professor Mark Jones told the Observer this summer. "It could be that the Cruz campaign has polling that shows that they can lower O'Rourke's approval ratings by highlighting [some of his positions]. It also suggests that they believe any refusal by Cruz to debate could reflect negatively on him."
Cruz's fellow Republicans have shown much less enthusiasm about taking on their challengers. Greg Abbott will debate former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez just once, while Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have both stiffed their Democratic opponents, refusing to take on their challengers, Mike Collier and Justin Nelson.