Polls bring debate bonanza for voters
If you’ve ever doubted the benefits of competition in politics, sports or business, take a look at the debate schedule for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso. The two have agreed to not just one but five debates from August to October in five different cities. A schedule like that will clearly help voters learn more about each candidate — in ways that aren’t possible from canned speeches or gauzy commercials.
It’s a stunning development in a state where top-level debates are rare. And it’s probably happening because Cruz understands he’s in a real race this fall.
No Democrat has won a statewide contest in Texas since 1994 — and that trend could continue this November. Most top races have been blowouts for the GOP, with victory margins of 20 percentage points or more.
But O’Rourke’s campaign has caught fire this year in Texas — and the rest of the nation. He’s even raised more money than Cruz so far, something that hasn’t happened to a Democrat running statewide in a long time. Whatever one thinks of his politics, O’Rourke is engaging and energetic. He has already visited all of the 254 counties in Texas.
In January, Cruz might have been inclined to ignore his Democratic opponent, decline debates and cruise to an easy victory like other GOP incumbents. He still might win, but he realizes he can’t appear overconfident or out of touch. After all, that’s a big part of how his underdog campaign beat establishment favorite David Dewhurst in 2012 for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat he now holds. It doesn’t hurt that Cruz was a debate champion at Princeton and participated in more than 20 nationally televised debates while running for president. He undoubtedly thinks he can tame this upstart.
In turn, a schedule like this puts some pressure on O’Rourke. He wants the attention the debates can provide, but he knows he has to deliver as well. Standing across from Cruz will not be easy as making a folksy speech before a friendly audience. If he wants to pull off an upset win, these debates are crucial.
Among other top GOP incumbents, only Gov. Greg Abbott has agreed to a debate with his Democratic challenger, Lupe Valdez. Just one, on a Friday night, when high school football will occupy the attention of many Texans.The Cruz-O’Rourke debates also are scheduled on Friday nights, and at least a couple need to be moved to Saturdays or Sundays.
Still, all Texans should hope that Cruz and O’Rourke start a new Texas tradition, an updated version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates that were celebrated in the 19th century. Voters deserve an unscripted, unfiltered look at both candidates for important posts, and only debates provide that. Any candidate who ducks that faceoff should pay a price with voters.