Ted Cruz backs out of CNN debate with Beto O'Rourke

The Texas senator bristled at accusations that he's afraid of a town hall with his Democratic opponent

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 10, 2018 11:37AM (EDT)

Beto O'Rourke; Ted Cruz (AP/Salon)
Beto O'Rourke; Ted Cruz (AP/Salon)

Sen. Ted Cruz has decided to not participate in a CNN town hall event with his Democratic rival, Rep. Beto O'Rourke. So instead, O'Rourke will get a full hour on the cable news network alone.

The town hall event will be held in the Texas town of McAllen and had initially been accepted by both candidates. As CNN reported, however, "Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign initially accepted CNN's invitation to participate" but then retracted their offer.

Jeff Roe, Cruz's campaign manager, disputes that characterization, writing on Twitter that "to be clear, the Cruz campaign proposed that @CNN host one of the Cruz-O’Rourke debates. The O’Rourke campaign declined. @CNN subsequently offered back to back town halls, in which we are unable to participate."

The CNN event was supposed to be the third event in which O'Rourke and Cruz would square off against each other. Their first debate was supposed to be held at the University of Houston on Sept. 30, but Cruz pulled out at the last second after it seemed like the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing was about to arrive at a vote. When the Senate instead changed its schedule, Cruz attempted to reinstate the debate, but O'Rourke claimed his schedule had already been permanently altered.

Cruz has had previous disagreements with CNN. After the school shootings in Parkland, Fla. earlier this year, Cruz was one of three prominent Republicans invited to appear on a CNN town hall who declined to do so. As a result, CNN ran a graphic with a picture of Cruz and the two other declining Republicans — Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — which said, "Unwilling to appear on CNN but did interviews on Fox & Friends: What are they afraid of?"

Cruz tweeted in response, "Gosh, I seem to recall doing not 1, not 2, but THREE town hall debates w/ @BernieSanders on @CNN Each 90 min long. You can accuse me of many things, but being afraid of CNN is not one of them...."

One possible reason for Cruz's reluctance to appear with O'Rourke is that the incumbent currently has a small but solid lead over his challenger. Polls taken since the start of September put Cruz anywhere from four to nine points ahead of O'Rourke, with an average lead of six points. Generally speaking, the conventional wisdom about debates is that they work to the advantage of challengers and against incumbents. Because Cruz is already ahead of O'Rourke by a lead that is much smaller than one would expect in a deep red state like Texas, it makes a certain degree of political sense to avoid jeopardizing that with a potentially sub-par debate performance.

On the other hand, O'Rourke will now get a solid hour of television entirely by himself on one of the three major news networks. That could of free, highly publicized airtime could help O'Rourke in entirely different ways than might have been the case had he appeared with Cruz.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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2018 Midterm Elections Beto O’rourke Cnn Ted Cruz Texas Senate Election