Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz sat at tables separated only by a raised podium, but were careful not to cross paths before and after their dueling speeches in Kerrville, about 60 miles northwest of San Antonio.
The pair is vying for the GOP nomination to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. They face a runoff July 31 after neither got a majority of the votes cast in a crowded Republican field during last months' primary -- even though Dewhurst bested Cruz by about 10 percentage points.
The winner of the runoff looks sure to prevail in November's general election.
Serving as powerful lieutenant governor since 2003, Dewhurst is the establishment Republican favorite. But the younger and more fiery Cuban-American Cruz is backed by tea party groups.
The race took a turn for the nasty at last week's Texas Republican Convention, when delegates booed Gov. Rick Perry, himself a conservative darling, for endorsing Dewhurst.
Speaking to about 200 members of the Kerr County Republican Women's Club in a hotel conference room, Dewhurst said, "I'm the only proven conservative in this race. I'm the only one who's done all the things my opponent is talking about."
He championed his work overseeing the Texas Senate, which on his watch approved a series of tax cuts, as well as laws requiring women to undergo a sonogram before having an abortion and voters to show ID at the polls.
"If you like Texas, that's what I've done for the last nine years," Dewhurst said. "You'll love the job I'll do for you in Washington."
When he said President Barack Obama had trampled on the U.S. Constitution, that drew a cry of "Amen!" But Dewhurst also noted, "I'm even madder at the Republicans who had a chance before Obama to pull America out of this financial ditch."
Dewhurst added that "we've got some who are attacking Texas," but wouldn't give specifics -- saying he wanted to stay positive.
That was likely a shot at national groups including the Tea Party Express and anti-tax Club For Growth that are backing Cruz and have bankrolled negative ads branding Dewhurst as too moderate because he sometimes worked with Democrats in the state Senate.
Dewhurst has a net worth of more than $200 million thanks to his oil and gas business and, in response, has pumped more than $10 million into his own campaign.
"I'm a real fighter," Dewhurst said. He said that before seeking elected office or starting his own business, he volunteered for the U.S. Air Force and worked in Latin America for the CIA.
Cruz later took the podium to whoops and a shriek of "Go Ted!" Seated nearby, Dewhurst stared into space, then took a long swig of iced tea.
Cruz said America was ready for new leadership, drawing "Amens," and ironically referenced reports the tea party was dead, sparking boos.
"We weren't supposed to be here. There wasn't supposed to be a runoff," he said.
Cruz took his own swipe at the GOP, saying of the sluggish national economy, "It's been career politicians in both parties who got us in this mess."
He claimed the lieutenant governor outspent him five-to-one during the campaign thanks to lobbyists in the state capital of Austin as well as Washington. But Cruz added that "there was one thing that my opponent said a minute ago that I very much agree with. ... That this runoff is a referendum on who decides elections in Texas."
"Do you want every lobbyist in Austin to decide, everyone who makes their living keeping the government gravy train going?" he asked. "Or do you want this race decided by conservative grassroots?"
Asked afterward if it was awkward to attack his opponent with him sitting nearby, Cruz responded, "I say the same thing whether David Dewhurst is in the room or 1,000 miles away.
"What Texans want is a straightforward comparison of myself and my opponent," he told The Associated Press. "That's what we give them."