HOUSTON (AP) — "Who's telling the truth?" was the central issue in a much-anticipated debate that focused mostly on questions of character between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick, candidates in the May 27 runoff for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.
And neither Dewhurst nor Patrick, who entered the debate favored to unseat Dewhurst, gave any ground during the one-hour event aired statewide Friday night from Houston.
Dewhurst, lieutenant governor since 2003, lost by 13 percentage points in the March GOP primary to fellow Houstonian Patrick, a radio talk show host and tea party favorite.
The winner faces Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio.
Dewhurst set the tone for the debate with first words of his opening remarks, saying, "I am David Dewhurst, and I've been David Dewhurst since I was born," an oblique reference to a statement in one of his campaign ads that alleges Patrick had changed his name from Dannie Goeb to run for office. Dewhurst also said he volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War. "My opponent chose not to do that. That is his business," he said.
Patrick dismissed Dewhurst's allegations as dirty politics.
"You know, for the past two weeks, my opponent has spent $2 million in the nastiest and dirtiest attack ads that most people have ever seen in a campaign," he said.
Both professed opposition to immigration law changes, federal health care programs, same-sex marriage and other issues.
"You follow the Constitution. You represent what's the best interest of Texas. And you fight the federal government at every turn," Patrick said.
Both supported unhindered oil and gas exploration, fracking and teaching creationism in schools. Both supported cutting funds to women's care facilities that provide abortions.
They disagreed on one policy point: Patrick said he would not appoint Democrats to top committee positions, as Dewhurst did in some cases.
The two later returned to questions of character.
"Sen. Patrick either cannot tell the truth or cannot read a bill, and both are really bad outcomes." Dewhurst said at one point.
Patrick said Dewhurst trusted him enough to name him chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
"He counted on me to get the job done this session," Patrick said of Dewhurst. In citing his own legislative achievements, Patrick cited first posting "In God We Trust" in the Texas Senate and adding "under God" to the state pledge.
Dewhurst noted that he won an $800 million appropriation for border security and initiated a law enforcement surge that sharply reduced the amount of illegal drugs being brought into the state from Mexico. Patrick dismissed the $800 million appropriation as being little more than "a rounding error" from the overall budget and the surge as being only a short-term solution to his border-security concerns.
When asked by a media panel about a personal bankruptcy in the 1980s, Patrick responded by referring to the bankruptcy of a business in which Dewhurst had a role.
"No comparison," Dewhurst said. "I've never had a personal bankruptcy."
"I went broke in the '80s, and there were some taxes that were due," Patrick said. "The businesses went broke. But my wife, a schoolteacher, and I, we paid all those taxes. All of this happened when I was 35. I'm 64. I'm a successful businessman. ... And I learned from those lessons," he said.
After the debate, Van de Putte issued a statement criticizing both for the tone of the debate.
"Neither Republican focused on the mission of keeping Texas strong with smart businesses investments in things like local schools or local roads and water. Instead they stooped to personal attacks," she said.