Cruz, O'Rourke tan­gle in de­bate Dif­fer­ences over im­mi­gra­tion, bor­der wall spark heated ex­change be­tween Demo­crat, Re­pub­li­can.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

Em­broiled in an un­ex­pect­edly com­pet­i­tive race, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his Demo­cratic chal­lenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, squared off Fri­day night for their first face-to-face de­bate, and sparks flew right from the first ques­tion on im­mi­gra­tion.

Each can­di­date ac­cused the other of sup­port­ing poli­cies that are out of step with Tex­ans.

“When it comes to im­mi­gra­tion, we need to do ev­ery­thing hu­manly pos­si­ble to se­cure the bor­der,” Cruz said. “That means build­ing the wall, that means tech­nol­ogy, that means in­fras­truc

ture, that means boots on the ground. We can do all that and at same time wel­come and cel­e­brate le­gal im­mi­grants.”

Cruz called it “strik­ing” that O’Rourke’s fo­cus “seems to be fight­ing for il­le­gal im­mi­grants and for­get­ting the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans” while dis­re­spect­ing im­mi­grants who ar­rived in this coun­try legally.

O’Rourke, from El Paso, said it makes sense to pro­vide a path to cit­i­zen­ship for the mil­lions of peo

ple “work­ing the tough­est jobs.”

“We need to bring peo­ple out of the shad­ows, al­low them to get right by the law, and, yes, there should be a path to cit­i­zen­ship. The al­ter­na­tive, as Sen­a­tor Cruz has pro­posed, is to de­port 11 mil­lion peo­ple from this coun­try. Imag­ine the cost, imag­ine the stain on our con­science go­ing for­ward for gen­er­a­tions,” he said.

“I’ll tell you about be­ing out of step with Texas. Sen­a­tor Cruz has spon­sored leg­is­la­tion to have this coun­try build a 2,000-mile wall, 30 feet high, at a cost of $30 bil­lion,” O’Rourke said, adding that the wall would be erected on pri­vate U.S. prop­erty by us­ing em­i­nent do­main.

The can­di­dates re­turned to re­peated themes dur­ing Fri­day’s de­bate — Cruz try­ing to por­tray O’Rourke as a mem­ber of the “hard left” bent on up­end­ing poli­cies es­poused by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, and O’Rourke in­sist­ing that he is a re­sults­driven prag­ma­tist who is will­ing to work with both sides to ac­com­plish mu­tual goals.

They also scrapped over kneel­ing for the na­tional an­them.

O’Rourke said the prac­tice was a le­git­i­mate, peace­ful re­sponse by black ath­letes to in­jus­tices in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, while Cruz said re­fus­ing to stand was dis­re­spect­ful to mil­lions of vet­er­ans who died or placed them­selves at risk.

Amid see­saw poll re­sults — just this week, sur­veys on con­sec­u­tive days showed Cruz up by 9 points and down by 2 — the first of three hour­long de­bates was held Fri­day night at South­ern Methodist Univer­sity in Dal­las be­fore an au­di­ence of about 240 and aired lo­cally on KXAN-TV.

The next two de­bates be­fore Novem­ber’s elec­tion will be Sept. 30 and Oct. 16.

High­light­ing the high stakes in­volved, hours be­fore the de­bate the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port — a re­spected prog­nos­ti­ca­tor of na­tional races — rated the Cruz-O’Rourke con­test too close to call.

“Cruz isn’t ter­ri­bly pop­u­lar, and while that might not nec­es­sar­ily be a prob­lem is a red state, O’Rourke and his mes­sage have gen­er­ated a great deal of en­thu­si­asm among Democrats and in­de­pen­dents, as well as Demo­cratic donors across the coun­try who have filled his cam­paign war chest,” se­nior ed­i­tor Jen­nifer Duffy wrote.

“O’Rourke has earned this rat­ing, but get­ting the last cou­ple of points to over­take Cruz and win the seat will be dif­fi­cult though not ut­terly im­pos­si­ble,” she con­cluded.

Cook had pre­vi­ously rated the race “leans Re­pub­li­can,” and Fri­day’s change to “toss-up” brought a swift re­sponse in the form of a Cruz fundrais­ing re­quest.

“Ted is be­ing out­raised and out­spent by his op­po­nent,” the emailed plea said. “The polls are close. The left is en­er­gized. The stakes are high and we need to an­swer.”

The next two de­bates be­fore Novem­ber’s elec­tion will be Sept. 30 and Oct. 16.

TOM FOX/THE DAL­LAS MORN­ING NEWS/POOL

Sen. Ted Cruz (left) shakes hands with Rep. Beto O’Rourke be­fore the start of their de­bate Fri­day at McFar­lin Au­di­to­rium at SMU in Dal­las.

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