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As Polls Show Toss-Up Over Texas Senate Seat, Cruz Uses First Debate to Attack O'Rourke's Increasingly Popular Progressive Proposals

Despite right-wing senator's rhetoric, O'Rourke's support for combating use of force by police, the DACA program, and other progressive initiatives are popular among Americans

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) took part in their first debate of the midterm campaign Friday night. (Photo: @MotherJones/Twitter)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) caused confusion among progressives Friday night after capping off his debate with Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) by vaguely suggesting his opponent's passionate condemnation of police brutality and expression of empathy for black communities in light of police shootings like that of Botham Jean earlier this month, somehow reflected negatively on O'Rourke.

Along with the comment "In Beto O'Rourke's own words," Cruz posted a video on Twitter of O'Rourke speaking recently about Jean, who was shot to death by an off-duty police officer in his Dallas apartment after the officer reportedly mistook the home for her own—and who was then posthumously smeared by a local news station that reported on marijuana that was found in Jean's apartment after he was killed.

The post elicited confounded responses from Texans and others, some of whom jokingly wondered if the senator was now campaigning for his challenger.

The tone of Cruz's tweet matched that of the senator at the Friday night debate, which followed the Cook Political Report's release of new poll numbers showing the race as a "toss-up," just two months after it had been rating "likely Republican." On Wednesday, the University of Virginia also released a survey which showed O'Rourke leading Cruz by two points.

During the debate, Cruz criticized O'Rourke for speaking out in support of athletes who have peacefully protested police brutality and calling for officers like the one charged with shooting Botham Jean to be fired, while O'Rourke called on law enforcement agencies to "protect and serve everybody in a community, not just some people." Recent polling of voters under age 35 has shown that 7 in 10 respondents were concerned about police violence against black Americans.

The two candidates also sparred over immigration, with Cruz calling for the border wall that was one of President Donald Trump's signature campaign issues and that now has the support of only 41 percent of Americans, and attacking O'Rourke for supporting a path to citizenship for young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children—a plan that 83 percent of Americans back. 

Cruz ended the debate by comparing O'Rourke to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is consistently rated as one of the country's most popular elected officials, and whose bold progressive proposals like Medicare for All are rapidly winning over the majority of Americans.  

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