Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst continued to hammer his attacks on his primary runoff challenger, state Sen. Dan Patrick, by framing himself at a Friday debate as a truth-teller exposing his opponent as a "liar" and a "whiner."
Patrick swung back, saying Dewhurst is an underdog whose fading political career hinges on million-dollar attack ads that say nothing of the lieutenant governor's policies.
The intensity of their exchanges has increased three weeks before the runoff.
Shots were fired with the first words of Dewhurst's opening statement: "I'm David Dewhurst and I've been David Dewhurst since the day I was born" — a clear zinger about Patrick's legal name change.
Patrick introduced himself as a Christian, conservative and Reagan Republican, then started pushing back on his opponent.
Panelists questioned the candidates on education, immigration reform, pre-kindergarten and alternative energy.
On immigration, both said they would work for more vigorous border security.
Dewhurst said he would advocate appropriations of $4 million to $5 million a month for a "surge" in border agents, while Patrick said he would increase detentions of those who cross illegally.
In response to questions about Texas as a majority-minority state and funding universal pre-kindergarten, Dewhurst pressed the point that he speaks Spanish and said he supports "preschool for all students."
Patrick said he would increase opportunities for the poor by expanding school choice for residents of challenged communities.
The two also argued about whether the other has been fiscally responsible in their personal finances.
Both claimed they were rising in the polls.
The showdown was considered a must-win for Dewhurst, who failed to lead in the March primary — a four-way race in which 72 percent of GOP voters punched ballots for candidates other than the sitting lieutenant governor.
Dewhurst, an 11-year incumbent, came in second in the primary, trailing Patrick by a large margin. As home to both men, Houston is considered a key market.
After the debate, Patrick quickly declared victory.
"He wants four more years to the things he hasn't done in 12 years. Twelve years is enough. Time to move on," the state senator said.
Following the debate, Dewhurst called Patrick a "pathological liar" and asked: "What's he trying to hide?"
The two will square off again in Dallas at a debate on Wednesday.
The primary runoff election is May 27.