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Beto O’Rourke and Greg Abbott Clash in Texas Debate Heavy on Attacks

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The candidates received no time for introductory comments and gave 30-second closing remarks, a format that played to Mr. Abbott’s strengths as a direct, often terse speaker, and limited Mr. O’Rourke’s tendency to construct long rhetorical flourishes.

And the timing, on a Friday evening when many Texans are more consumed with highschool football, appeared likely to cut back the number of individuals watching live.

Chris Evans, a spokesman for Mr. O’Rourke, said before the controversy that the Abbott campaign had proposed the terms and wouldn’t accept any changes. “They declined to have voters within the audience,” he said. An Abbott spokesman, Mark Miner, said that Mr. O’Rourke was in “no position to run the state if he can’t even comprehend easy debate rules.”

Democrats in Texas have pinned their hopes on Mr. O’Rourke before, but up to now he has managed only to be victorious in defeat. In his name-making 2018 run for Senate, he got here inside three percentage points of unseating Senator Ted Cruz, a powerful showing in Republican-dominated Texas, but still a losing one.

Friday’s debate, just just a few weeks before early voting begins in Texas, got here at an important moment for each campaigns, especially Mr. O’Rourke’s. Over the summer, some polls had suggested a tightening race after the Uvalde killings and the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. But more moderen surveys show Mr. Abbott more firmly on top of things, with a lead of about seven percentage points.

For Mr. O’Rourke, the previous congressman from El Paso and a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, the controversy was a probability to recapture momentum and his most direct opportunity to prosecute his case against Mr. Abbott, a two-term incumbent who has led the state for eight years under unified Republican control of state government.

For Mr. Abbott, it was an evening to make it through unscathed. His campaign had prepared for weeks for the encounter, seeing Mr. O’Rourke as a talented debater with significant experience from his run for president in 2020.

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