A sharp rise in Texas unemployment and a nearly statewide audience put Gov. Bill Clements and his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Mark White, on their best behavior when they met here for their second television debate.
In contrast to their noisy confrontation last month, the candidates, locked in a tough election fight, kept themselves focused on national and Texas issues ranging from the economy to utility rates to campaign spending, and mostly avoided the insults that highlighted their earlier meeting.
White abandoned his charges that Clements was a mudslinger in favor of a steady barrage of criticism that the governor consistently had "sided with the rich against the average Texan."
Clements, under orders from his aides to restrain himself, carefully corrected many of White's statements without resorting to overkill or questioning White's competence, as he had done.
Clements' message Monday night was simple.
"I am a businessman," he said, "not a politician." He argued that he had managed state government effectively in his first term and could do so in a second term.
"If you're sick and you need a doctor, you want a doctor, not some, uh, quack," Clements said.
But White seized on the rise in Texas unemployment, from 6.7 percent in August to 8.4 in September. He attacked Clements for supporting a guest worker program for undocumented workers and for encouraging northern workers to come to Texas by "bragging" about the state's economy at a time when 600,000 Texans are out of work.
Clements argued that the recession came to Texas last and will leave first.
"Wall Street has taken off like a skyrocket," he said. "I think there is a silver lining to this cloud."
White responded, "Just like the governor said, everything seems to be going great on Wall Street, but I'm really worried about what's happening on Main Street right here in Texas."
White criticized Clements for saying last Friday, when the new unemployment figures were announced, that "good economic news . . . greeted us this morning," saying it revealed Clements' insensitivity.
The two candidates were asked about the disparity in financial resources in the campaign. Clements has already spent $8.3 million to White's $3.4 million.
"When the governor said he would spend whatever it took to get elected, he meant he would spend whatever it took to buy the election," White said.
Unapologetically, Clements said his 45,000 individual contributors were a measure of his support.
"He's done no better than a mediocre job in the attorney general's office, maybe a poor job," Clements replied. "That's why he can't raise money."
When Clements said in response to another question, "In a very real sense, I am an environmentalist," White teed off on him. He said that the biggest environmental problem in Texas recently was the blowout of a Mexican oil well drilled by the company Clements founded.
Clements set off the audience at one point by referring to statistics cited by White as "wampy-jawed." Texas reporters later said the phrase meant something akin to running off at the mouth.
The debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was ballyhooed as the central event of the campaign, but no Houston television station carried it live.
It was seen there at 11:30 p.m., after the "Tonight" show. And no station in El Paso carried the debate. Said the program manager at one station, "Austin is 500 miles from here."