DENTON — The state's top two Republican officeholders and a relative political newcomer wrestled with some of Texas' thorniest issues — from job losses to nationalized health care to looming state budget shortfalls — in Thursday night's opening debate of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Although several punches were landed by all candidates, there was no clear winner in the debate that was at times marked by smirks and mocking statements between Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Wharton County Republican Party Chairwoman Debra Medina.
The one thing the candidates agreed on, even as they questioned their rivals’ ability to tell the truth, was their desire to best serve Texas — a place, Medina said, where an "average citizen" can participate in a gubernatorial debate between a sitting governor and a sitting U.S. senator.
"Texas is the best place in America," Hutchison said, as she criticized Perry's work on issues ranging from education to private property rights. "I have fought most of my adult life for Texas. . . . I want us to leave Texas better than we found it. We owe it to ourselves."
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Perry called the state "the land of opportunity" and said people across the nation recognize that "there's something special going on in Texas."
An audience of about 800 attended Thursday’s hour-long KERA-produced debate was broadcast from the Murchison Performing Arts Center at the University of North Texas in Denton. The Star-Telegram was a co-sponsor of the debate.The sniping between the candidates began even before the debate as Perry released a new TV ad, called "Bailout," criticizing Hutchison's vote in support of the federal stimulus package, and Hutchison countered with a press release stating that at one time, Perry encouraged members of Congress to support the package.
Perry — the state's longest-serving governor, having been in office since former Gov. George W. Bush left for the White House in late 2000 — pounded several familiar campaign themes. He criticized Hutchison as a Washington insider who should go back to D.C. and help defeat health care legislation. And he contended that the state's economy is thriving under his leadership and that taxes have gone down on his watch.
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