By Gromer Jeffers Jr. and Tom Benning, The Dallas Morning News
Republican rivals in the race to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison showed some differences on taxes and immigration Monday while bickering over attack ads that have dominated the contest.
With David Dewhurst, the acknowledged front-runner, skipping a tea party rally and a candidate screening by The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board, the other leading contenders turned their fire on the lieutenant governor — and one another.
“This race for U.S. Senate presents a simple, clear choice between a timid career politician in David Dewhurst vs. a strong conservative fighter,” former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz said at the Tea Party Express event in Far North Dallas.
With three weeks to go until the primary, Cruz — widely thought to be running second — is trying to keep Dewhurst from clinching the GOP nomination without a runoff, while the two other leading contenders are trying to get closer to him.
Cruz, who headlined the tea party rally, accused the lieutenant governor of trying to buy the election and of wanting to win simply to “go to Washington and join the club.”
But before the editorial board, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN analyst Craig James blasted Cruz for his legal work on behalf of a Chinese company that was found to have stolen designs from a U.S. tire company, putting it out of business.
The case, on which Cruz did appellate work for the Chinese manufacturer, has been the centerpiece of a relentless Dewhurst campaign attack on Cruz, featuring TV ads and in-depth Web videos.
Leppert said Cruz had taken credit for other aspects of his career as a lawyer and should take responsibility for what his firm did that could be perceived as negative.
James agreed, saying Cruz “should have left the law firm.” Cruz said the Dewhurst ad was “filled with lies” and the front-runner was “trying to distract from a comparison of his record and my record.”
He told Leppert: “I understand. You like the Dewhurst attack, and you’re pushing it forward.”
Matt Hirsch, a Dewhurst spokesman, said the ad is a “fact of Cruz’s record of helping kill American jobs by representing this Chinese company.” And Hirsch, who said Dewhurst had to skip the Dallas events because of scheduling conflicts, dismissed Cruz’s critiques.
“David Dewhurst is focused on what he’s done as lieutenant governor — in balancing budgets, cutting taxes, reducing spending — and taking that same Texas model to Washington,” he said.
Cruz is relying heavily on backing from national conservative groups, and one, the Tea Party Express, has led rallies around the state featuring him. Those came under fire Monday from populist Senate hopeful Glenn Addison, who accused the group of making a sham of its events.
He complained that GOP Senate contenders were invited at the last minute to Texas rallies even though they were planned in advance and that he was denied a chance to speak at a weekend event in Austin.
“They make Chicago politics look nice,” Addison said.
Sal Russo, the group’s chief strategist, said that when possible, the group allows Republican candidates for offices all over the ballot to speak at its events. But he said that time was limited at the Austin event with Ron Paul and Rand Paul.
“We eliminated the nonserious candidates,” Russo said.
At the editorial board meeting, the Republican candidates — including Addison and Lela Pittenger — generally agreed on the need to secure the borders, prevent tax increase and unravel President Barack Obama’s health care law.
But there were some differences.
James, for instance, said corporate profits should be untaxed. Leppert said he would “get rid of the junk” in the tax code and lower the tax rate on businesses.
“I’m the ruthless spending cutter at this table, but I can’t get all the way there if I don’t grow the economy,” Leppert said. James responded: “That’s still politics.”
On immigration, Cruz declined to say what should happen to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country but said laws on the books should be enforced. He said he would favor a verification system for employers to use as they’re hiring and would triple the number of border security agents.
“Our laws are here for a purpose,” he said. “We need to enforce them.”
Leppert said increasing agents would not work unless there’s more accountability for border security.
“We need to ask them what are the tools they need,” Leppert said.
James said he favored using the military on the borders and would allow some illegal immigrants to return to their country of origin and try again to enter the U.S. legally.
“A lot of those 11 million are tired of living in the dark,” he said.
©2012 The Dallas Morning News