Cruz and O’Rourke appear headed to five debates in U.S. Senate campaign


Beto O’Rourke called for six debates. Ted Cruz agreed to five, by topic and locale.

The five debates would be on Friday nights, when the U.S. Senate is not in session.

The debates would raise the profile of the already high-profile race.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Wednesday offered to debate Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, five times on different topics in different parts of Texas on five Friday nights between Aug. 31 and Oct. 12.

“I am encouraged that Sen. Cruz has decided that he’s ready to debate the issues,” O’Rourke said in response. “Our campaign looks forward to working with his campaign to finalize mutually agreed upon details.”

Beyond the question of whether O’Rourke is OK with the schedule set by Cruz, the two campaigns also have to agree on moderators, sponsors and media partners for events that presumably would be televised statewide.

The prospect of five debates in a U.S. Senate campaign anywhere, anytime is eye-catching. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated seven times in their 1858 Illinois U.S. Senate campaign. (Senators were chosen by legislatures then. Douglas, the incumbent, prevailed, but two years later, Lincoln was elected president.)

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Even before this development, the contest between Cruz, 47, and O’Rourke, 45, was emerging as the most-watched Senate campaign in the country. According to the Federal Election Commission, O’Rourke and Cruz each have raised more than $23 million, more than any U.S. Senate candidates this cycle with the exception of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who appears likely to run for president in 2020, and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who won a heated special election that was a singular focus of national attention late last year.

In April, O’Rourke challenged Cruz to six debates, including two in Spanish. O’Rourke, who grew up in a border community, is fluent in Spanish. Cruz, whose father was born in Cuba, is not. Cruz said he was not a good enough Spanish speaker to debate in Spanish, and the O’Rourke campaign said six debates in English would do.

In his letter Wednesday to O’Rourke, Jeff Roe, Cruz’s campaign strategist, said the hourlong debates would all be on Friday nights because the Senate is expected to be in session. Roe notes in his letter that the debates will be in English.

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The first proposed debate would be Aug. 31 in Dallas on jobs, taxes, federal regulation and the national economy. The format would have the candidates standing at podiums.

The second debate would be Sept. 14 in McAllen on immigration, border security, criminal justice and the Supreme Court. The candidates would be seated.

The third debate would be Sept. 21 in San Antonio on foreign policy and national security. It would be conducted in a town hall format, which would mean members of the audience would ask questions.

The fourth debate would be on energy, trade and the Texas economy on Oct. 5 in Houston. The candidates would be back behind podiums.

The fifth debate, with a town hall format, would be Oct. 12 in Lubbock on health care and Obamacare.

Cruz probably has more to lose by debating because he is the better-known incumbent and favorite, though the size of his lead varies from poll to poll.

But Cruz was also an accomplished debater at Princeton University, winning along with his debate partner, David Panton, dozens of tournaments, and Cruz won “Speaker of the Year” honors, according to his 2015 book, “A Time for Truth.”

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to indicate that U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is D-Ala., not R-Ala.

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