Election Day is just over three months away, and that means the onset of debate season. Despite Republicans again being heavy favorites in all Texas statewide races this year, voters will get to see multiple debates in some of the high profile races. Gov. Greg Abbott has agreed to at least one debate against Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez, on Sept. 28 in Austin. Valdez has since proposed a second debate in Houston, but nothing official has been set. Meantime, Sen. Ted Cruz is also taking a bold step for an incumbent favorite, agreeing to five debates with Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke at locations across the state.
It's rare to see incumbents with solid leads in the polls like Abbott and Cruz be so willing to debate. "A debate opens up potential risk for an incumbent, they could do something wrong or say something awkward," says Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston.
Rottinghaus believes Abbott has good reason to meet Valdez head-to-head. "I think the governor's not worried about the policy chops of Lupe Valdez, who has shown that she's not fully in grasp of the politics and policy in the state," he says. "Abbott also, in some ways, will debate in place of other statewide officials who won't debate--like Dan Patrick or Ken Paxton--so this is an opportunity for Greg Abbott to sort of spread the gospel of Republicanism and ensure that turnout is good this fall."
As for Sen. Cruz agreeing to multiple debates, he is known as someone who relishes and excels at debating, so it's not a surprise. But Rottinghaus believes there is another reason, as well. "Cruz's biggest issue is that he's perceived to be out of touch with most Texans and he's more concerned about running for President," he says. "These debates may help him shore up latent support, and remind voters why they elected him in the first place."