Five GOP presidential candidates spar in final debate before Texans cast ballots

Forrest Milburn

HOUSTON — The remaining five Republican candidates for president wrestled to set themselves apart on immigration reform Thursday in the final debate as Texans, and voters from 10 other states prepare to cast their ballots next week.

On Thursday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio heavily criticized businessman Donald Trump for saying he is against providing citizenship for undocumented immigrants, while also having a history of employing many throughout his career.

“It is a mistake to forgive those who break the law to allow them to become U.S. citizens,” Cruz said. “That’s why I’ve led the fight against granting citizenship to those here illegally, and that’s why I will do the same thing as president.”

Trump, who recently secured wins in Nevada, South Carolina and New Hampshire, defended his views on immigration and border security Thursday night by arguing he won the majority of votes from Nevada’s latinos in the state’s Feb. 3 caucuses.

“[Hispanics] are the reason I won Nevada, they are incredible people, they get it,” Trump said. “I’m going to be bringing in a lot of new people in. We’re building a new Republican Party.”

Although some polls have shown Trump with low favorability numbers nationwide, exit polls from Nevada show Trump won 45 percent of all Latino Republicans to Rubio’s and Cruz’s 27 and 18 percent, respectively.

While most of the action was between the top three candidates, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) were also in Houston, Thursday night, to share their visions to voters.

Thursday’s debate was the final chance for candidates to state their case before Super Tuesday, when voters in Texas and 10 other states will head to the polls on March 1 to cast their vote. Until Super Tuesday, with a combined 595 total delegates available, most of the candidates had been fighting for a handful of delegates from relatively small states.

Trump currently has 82 delegates allocated to him from the early primary states, while Rubio has 17, Cruz 16, and Carson 4. Candidates need 1,237 delegates to secure the nomination.

Supporters of Cruz acknowledge the senator must perform well in his home state of Texas if he wants to secure the nomination. 

“People can not stay home,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, who endorsed Cruz Thursday morning. “Texas voters, probably as much as any voter in the United States, [focus] on core conservative values. Ted Cruz embodies those
conservative values.”

Cruz is currently projected to take the highest portion of the 155 Texas delegates on March 1, with 37 percent choosing Cruz over 29 for Trump and 15 for Rubio, according to a Texas Tribune poll released Tuesday.

“It is Cruz’s home state, and there is a lot of talk and mumbling about whether he’ll win his state or not,” said College Republicans President Madison Yandell, a government senior. “If he’s losing his home state, that’s not a good sign going into the rest of the election.”