Immigration, Gaza dominate debate between Texas Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate

The debate was hosted by the AFL-CIO in Austin on Sunday.

By Sarah AschJanuary 29, 2024 2:46 pm,

The three leading candidates for the 2024 Texas Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate – U.S. Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio and state Rep. Carl Sherman of DeSoto – shared a debate stage for the first time on Sunday.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, who covers state politics for The Texas Newsroom, said the debate hosted by the Texas AFL-CIO at its annual convention in Austin was significant for being the first of this primary season for this particular race.

“There’s nine candidates running for a Democratic nomination, but only three were in the state debating yesterday,” he said. “There were over 500 people in attendance here in Austin. And, you know, this was a captive audience. So there was a lot of clapping and cheering.”

One of the main issues that came up during the debate was immigration, and Martínez-Beltrán said Allred and Gutierrez clashed a bit on stage.

“Last week, Congressmen Allred voted for a Republican-led resolution that denounced ‘the Biden administration’s open border policies,’”  Martínez-Beltrán said. “That’s the language that’s used by mostly Republicans. In total, 14 Democrats voted for that resolution in Congress, and Allred said yesterday that he voted that way so people knew he would not stand for what he calls the status quo.”

However, Gutierrez said Allred’s vote aligned him with those who support former President Donald Trump.

“We don’t need to have Democrats throwing our president under the bus as happened here last week,” Gutierrez said on stage. “We don’t need to adopt Trump and Cruz’s causes. We don’t need to build walls. We need comprehensive immigration reform, Congressman.”

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Another key issue for Democrats – abortion access – came up during the debate, though Martínez-Beltrán said the three candidates mostly agreed on expanded abortion access.

Sherman talked about how his faith has played a role in his support of abortion and said he would take steps to codify Roe into law if elected.

“The God I serve is a God that gives me not only mind autonomy, but body autonomy, too,” he said. “And so it is not right for a man to go further than God who gives us that autonomy. “

The third big issue to define the debate was the ongoing conflict in Gaza, Martínez-Beltrán said.

“As you know, there’s a growing number of Democrats who want to see a cease-fire,” he said. “That’s the case of Senator Roland Gutierrez: Talking about the war and Israel’s actions, Gutierrez said, ‘You cannot bring justice to 1,200 people by killing 30,000.'”

But Allred doubled down on his opposition to a cease-fire without conditions.

“A cease-fire without conditions meeting would mean that all these hostages, over 100 that Hamas still holds, would remain hostage,” Allred said Sunday. “It would also mean that Hamas stays in power. So they could do this again at some later date. It is unacceptable that we would pursue something along those lines.”

Martínez-Beltrán said even if most people didn’t tune into the debate, the results could impact the race.

“The Texas AFL-CIO represents over 240,000 members – and we’re talking about pipefitters, HVAC technicians, electricians. So what was at stake here was the endorsement of this group because it could come with votes, but also volunteers and other support,” he said. “I don’t know if this debate has changed any hearts, in particular, but the candidates are trying to sell themselves as the person who can actually beat Ted Cruz, which so far he has proven to be unbeatable. But last time he ran for office, it got really close.”

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