Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke pinned himself in a corner during Friday night's debate with Sen.
The debate at Dallas' Southern Methodist University also saw Cruz criticize O'Rourke's past support for legalizing marijuana, evoking his older half-sister, Miriam, who died of a drug overdose.
The candidates will also debate on September 30 at the University of Houston and on October 16 in San Antonio. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll gave O'Rourke a slight edge, with 47 percent to Cruz's 45 percent, but that came on the heels of a Quinnipiac University survey that showed Cruz up by nine percentage points.
Following the debate, O'Rourke told reporters that Cruz "has a tendency to mischaracterize a position" and was making him appear more politically more radical than he is.
They differed on gun rights - with O'Rourke arguing for some limits on gun rights and saying that "thoughts and prayers are just not going to cut it", and Cruz insisting that "gun control is not the answer". Men back Cruz 57 - 42 percent.
When it was his turn, Cruz said he admired O'Rourke for being passionate and believing in what he is fighting for - much like Bernie Sanders, the self-described Democratic socialist, Cruz noted.
O'Rourke replied: "True to form".
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"In 2016, he missed half of the votes in the United States Senate", O'Rourke said. He has complained that outside Democratic groups are providing O'Rourke with a fundraising advantage.
So why such a big difference in these two polls?
A truck mounted with a portable billboard of a February 2016 Trump tweet declaring, "Why would the people of Texas support Ted Cruz when he has accomplished nothing for them?" was parked near Friday's debate site.
"We need a junior senator who will stand up to this president", O'Rourke said. "That system of suspecting somebody solely based on the color of their skin, searching that person solely based on the color of their skin, stopping that person solely based on the color of their skin, shooting that person solely based on the color of their skin, throwing the book at that person and letting them rot behind bars solely based on the color of their skin, is why some have called this - I think it is an apt description - the new Jim Crow".
Cruz recalled meeting with students and teachers from the school.
Texas voters were treated Friday evening to a Senate debate conducted throughout at an extremely high level that presented a stark contrast between full-blown conservatism and liberalism.
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