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Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz Squared Off With 3 Weeks Left Until Midterms

The two men battling for the future of Texas addressed tax cuts, health care, immigration and more

Beto O'Rourke and Senator Ted Cruz in Texas Senate debate, 2018

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) listens as Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) gives his final remarks during a debate before the US Midterm elections in San Antonio, 2018.

TOM REEL/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The stakes were high in San Antonio Tuesday night as Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) met on the debate stage for the second time. The debate comes as polls show Cruz holding a healthy lead over his challenger — one that’s increased since the pair’s first debate in September. Tuesday’s was the last debate scheduled before election day, after Cruz pulled out of a previous bout scheduled in Houston and a CNN town hall.

A CNN poll released earlier this week found immigration was the number one issue for Texans this fall (26 percent said it was their primary concern), followed by the economy (23 percent), health care (19 percent), gun policy (8 percent) and election hacking (5 percent). Tuesday’s debate didn’t touch on guns, but the candidates did cover the other four. 

On Election Hacking
O’Rourke hit Cruz over his refusal to support the Election Security Grants Amendment (Cruz voted to block the amendment, which would have provided $250 million to bolster ballot box protections) and called attention to the fact that Cruz paid Cambridge Analytica — the company accused of illegally harvesting data, manipulating voters and spreading fake news  — more than $5 million in 2016.

Cruz voiced concern about “the political bias of big tech — of Facebook and Google, skewing and silencing the voices of those who, politically, they disagree with,” and said Congress should enact stronger regulations on the companies.

On Health Care
Texas has the highest rate of uninsured adults in the entire country — 21 percent of 19-to-64 year olds lack insurance and, according to a poll released last month, 62 percent of Texans said it is one the most important issues they will weigh when choosing who to support in November. Cruz sought to portray O’Rourke’s support for universal health care as far outside the mainstream of what Texas voters want. “O’Rourke supports Bernie Sanders’ socialized medicine,” which, Cruz threatened, would “triple your taxes.” He warned that long waits and “immense” costs would come with any such system.

O’Rourke was unapologetic. “All you hear from Sen. Cruz is what we should be afraid of,” he said, reminding voters that Cruz shut down the government in 2013 in protest of the Affordable Care Act — “perhaps because too many people had health care.”

On Tax Cuts
Cruz touted his support of the Trump tax cuts, which, polling shows, a majority of Americans disapprove of: “I’m proud to have supported the tax cut,” Cruz said. “The tax cut is producing enormous benefits for the state of Texas and for the country.” (Earlier this week, figures showed the legislation contributed to a 17 percent increase in the national deficit; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now says programs that support low-income Americans — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — need to be cut to offset the damage.)

O’Rourke seized the opportunity to highlight a key difference in the race: Cruz’s willingness to accept donations from PACs, which O’Rourke has sworn off. “Follow the money,” O’Rourke said. “Those tax cuts will disproportionately flow to corporations who are already sitting on record piles of cash in a country that is riven with income inequality unseen seen since the last Gilded Age.”

On Immigration
Nowhere in the country, Cruz said, was there “a starker divide” on immigration than between himself and his challenger. O’Rourke painted Cruz as the extremist, noting that he was the only member of the Senate — Republican or Democrat — who voted against opening a debate on what to do about the fates of immigrants who were brought to the country as children. “When the Senate voted to move forward on debate for Dreamers, 98 Senators showed up that day, 97 voted to move forward. Only one senator voted no,” O’Rourke said.

“No wall is going to solve legitimate security issues, but smart policy will,” he added, highlighting his own willingness to work with Republican senator John Cornyn on immigration. (The pair co-sponsored a bill together to increase funding at ports of entry.)

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