SAN ANTONIO — As they traded barbs during a televised debate on Tuesday night, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro covered a range of issues beyond the set topic of immigration policy, including the November general election and abortion rights.
During the hour-long event broadcast on the Spanish-language TV station Univision and moderated by Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith, Patrick frequently sought to emphasize his compassion for those who cross the U.S. border illegally.
“I don’t like to see the exploitation of people crossing the border,” said Patrick, who is favored to win a May primary runoff against incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The winner will face San Antonio Democrat Leticia Van de Putte in November. “It is not right for a man who is crossing this border with his family to see his daughter or wife raped at midnight by a coyote," he added. "It is not right to come to America on the back of an 18-wheeler.”
Patrick also highlighted his opposition to abortion, which he said Hispanic voters shared. At one point he directly asked Castro to state his position on abortion rights.
“If a mom comes across the border pregnant, I want her to have that child, I want her to have that Hispanic child,” Patrick said. “You believe she has a right to take that baby. I want to protect that baby, because we are born in the image of God."
Castro accused Patrick of playing politics, pointing out that what he said during the debate stood in stark contrast to the state senator's tone on the campaign trail and in televised ads. Heading into the March primary, Patrick's comments referring to the influx of undocumented immigrants from Mexico as an "illegal invasion" — and his references to the diseases he said they bring with them — drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
“You’ve been huffing and puffing on the campaign trail like the Big Bad Wolf and now you are tiptoeing around like Little Red Riding Hood,” Castro said.
The San Antonio mayor also cautioned against what he called the "radical departure" Patrick's views represented, saying they went against the "reasonable" immigration policy advanced by state leaders of both parties for two decades.
"Your numbers are wrong, your policies are wrong and you're wrong for Texas," Castro said.
Speaking with reporters after the event, which occurred as a result of a challenge on social media after Castro called the senator the “most anti-immigrant Republican running for office,” Patrick said he was happy he agreed to do it.
"Republicans have not done a good job of coming into the living rooms of Democrats and telling them what they believe," he said.