There was all the excitement of a major sporting event on Wednesday night, as Ronny Jackson and Josh Winegarner squared off in the only televised debate for the 13th Congressional District Republican runoff election.
The brewing tensions between the two campaigns spilled over as the two candidates traded shots on several issues at the Nexstar studio in Wichita Falls. Jackson—a retired Navy admiral—pressed Winegarner on his organization’s support of Democrats while he was the government affairs director for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. Jackson also pushed back against Winegarner’s attacks on his military service, telling Winegarner that he has “no respect” for the military.
Here are some of the major takeaways from the debate:
On Winegarner’s record as a lobbyist
Moderators in Wednesday’s debate questioned Winegarner on his record as a lobbyist, which includes a 2017 lobbying disclosure filed with the U.S. Senate that shows Winegarner lobbied to continue NAFTA and to prevent country-of-origin labeling, in defiance of Trump administration priorities. When asked how his record as a lobbyist would benefit him as a prospective congressman, Winegarner once again leaned into the message he has been pushing, saying, “I think it’s gonna be great.”
On President Trump’s endorsement of Ronny Jackson and Will Hurd’s endorsement of Josh Winegarner
Winegarner attempted to downplay President Trump’s endorsement of Jackson in the District 13 race, saying that while he would have liked to have Trump’s endorsement, he cares more about winning the support of voters. Jackson seized the opportunity to once again tout his endorsement from Trump and to point out Winegarner’s support from U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R–Helotes), who has been a frequent critic of President Trump.
“You didn’t get President Trump’s endorsement because he endorsed me and he normally doesn’t get involved in primaries, but he did because he understands that you’re a ‘Never Trump,’ RINO Republican,” Jackson said to Winegarner.
Jackson went on to say that he will be a supporter of President Trump in Washington, while Winegarner responded by attacking Jackson for having the support of Club for Growth and conservative businessman Chris Ekstrom, who also sought the Republican nomination for the seat in the March 3 primary.
When pressed on his support from Hurd, Winegarner said that Hurd is not one of his biggest supporters, but he did acknowledge the support of the South Texas legislator.
As Texas Scorecard has previously reported, Hurd’s super PAC, Future Leaders Fund, has announced its intentions to launch an ad buy aimed at discrediting Jackson ahead of the July 14 runoff election, in order to allow Winegarner to build his support in the district.
On term limits
When discussing the issue of term limits, both Winegarner and Jackson said they support term limits for members of Congress. However, while Jackson said he would limit himself at four to five terms in the U.S. House, Winegarner refused to indicate whether he would term limit himself.
“I’m not going to give you an arbitrary number because I don’t know what that number is,” Winegarner replied when asked how long he would stay in office.
On the candidates’ biggest professional setbacks
In one of the more unexpected questions of the evening, the moderators asked both candidates to discuss their biggest professional setbacks. Jackson discussed choosing to withdraw from his nomination to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs, saying he later learned there was a better place for him to continue to serve in the White House as a member of the U.S. Navy.
Meanwhile, Winegarner told a story about the first time he went to Washington as a lobbyist, saying he didn’t know what “the boss really wanted me to do.”
This is expected to be the only televised debate between the Republican candidates before the runoff’s election day. Election Day is July 14, and early voting begins on June 29.