Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison sparred over taxes, spending and the economy in their first Republican governor's race debate, but their differences on abortion also took a spotlight.
Throughout the debate, Hutchison and Perry accused each other of misleading voters. Hutchinson tried to stick to fiscal issues and challenged Perry's claim that he cut business taxes.
Perry repeatedly tried to tie Hutchison to increased federal government spending and accused her of changing her position by voting for a fall 2008 financial industry bailout bill. Hutchison said then-president Bush urged her and other Republicans in Congress to support the bailout bill to combat a "global meltdown" in the economy.
"He hated to do that. We hated to make that vote," she said.
But Hutchison noted that Perry, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, wrote a letter urging Congress to pass the economic recovery bill. Perry later said he didn't support the federal legislation.
Perry tried to point to jobs he said he created while in office and cited statistics stretching from November 2007 to November 2008. Hutchinson responded by saying Texas lost 300,000 jobs last year and "that is not a record to be proud of."
Texas' unemployment is 8 percent, about two percentage points below the national average.
Abortion is a leading issue for voters who tend to participate in Texas Republican primaries. The primary is March 2.
"My record is one that always comes down on the side of life," Hutchison said Thursday night during the televised verbal bout at the University of North Texas. She said she voted against late-term abortions and federal funding for abortions.
Perry, seeking an unprecedented third four-year term, chided Hutchison for voting in favor of a nonbinding resolution supporting Roe v. Wade and noted she was once praised by an abortion rights group.
"The consistency issue is one I'm having trouble with, senator," he said.
Republican candidate Debra Medina also participated in the debate and appeared to be the only one of the trio familiar with the state's so-called futile care law, another issue important to anti-abortion groups.
The law gives families of some terminally ill patients 10 days notice before life support is cut off unless a court intervenes or the patient is moved. Texas Right to Life, disabled activists and others say they don't want medical officials making those decisions.
Medina, a registered nurse, said she sees its real-life effects and pressed Perry on why he hadn't repealed it. Neither he nor Hutchinson seemed familiar with the law.
Associated Press Writer John McFarland contributed to this report.
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