Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis and state Attorney General Greg Abbott each scored points Friday in their first gubernatorial campaign debate, but watchers said there was no clear winner in their arguments on education, immigration, abortion, and other issues.
Davis, a Democrat, had everything to gain in the debate, held in the Rio Grande Valley, as she is trailing
Republican Abbott by a 12.6-point lead in national polling.
The debate stipulations said that it would not be held in front of a live audience, reports The Monitor
newspaper, which sponsored the event. Four separate viewing parties, one for each candidate, one for the media, and one for the general public were set up.
The Dallas Morning News
reports that Abbott, who generally does not make such public appearances, did not seem rattled by Davis' attacks, in which she addressed him directly while accusing him of being influenced by wealthy contributors.
The main topic of the debate was education, with Davis, of Fort Worth, accusing Abbott of defending funding cuts that have resulted in teacher layoffs and overcrowded classrooms.
"That's not liberal, that's not conservative, that's just dumb," said Davis.
But Abbott said he hopes to move the state's schools beyond "one-size-fits-all" funding and make Texas schools the top in the country, noting that the state already excels in energy, exports, and job creation.
The attorney general did not often speak directly to Davis, the News reports, instead speaking to the camera or to the moderators while outlining his plans for lower taxes and limited government. Further, instead of attacking Davis directly, he aimed his criticism at President Barack Obama, asking Davis at one point if she was glad she voted for the president.
But instead of answering that question, she spoke of her plans for the governor's office, focusing on how the state's Republican legislature pushed some $5.4 billion in cuts during a budget shortfall in 2009.
More than 500 school districts sued the state as a result, with an Austin district judge ruling the state did not provide adequate funding for schools, violating the Texas Constitution.
Abbott represents the state as attorney general and plans to appeal the Austin judge's ruling.
Abbott wants to focus on children benefiting from a pre-K program, but Davis wants the focus on early programs for all young children, accusing Abbott of "picking and choosing" children who would benefit through standardized testing, a charge he denied.
The debate also touched on abortion. Davis is best known nationwide after the 13-hour filibuster last year against a restrictions bill, and Abbott said he is a pro-life Catholic.
"Texas is ensuring that we protect more life and do a better job of protecting the health care of women by providing that women still have five months to make a very difficult decision. But after that time, the state has an interest in protecting innocent life,” Abbott said.
But Davis, who admitted in her recent memoirs
that she's had two abortions, said the decision is the “most private of decisions [that] can be made by women," and that Abbott opposes abortion even for rape and incest victims.
The two also debated concerns for Hispanic voters, with Davis accusing Abbott of backing redistricting plans that discriminate against Hispanics, as well as a photo ID rule.
Meanwhile, Abbott said he hopes to focus on protecting the Rio Grande Valley from drug trafficking and pointed out that if he is elected, his wife, Cecilia, of 33 years, will be Texas' first Hispanic first lady, reports The Morning News.
Abbott and Davis do agree on some points, including supporting the death penalty, the use of National Guard troops along the border, and drug testing people who get state benefits.
Friday night's debate was the first of two planned meetings. The next one is scheduled for Sept. 30 in Dallas.
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