Which candidate won the debate?

HOUSTON WATCH IT: See for yourself how the candidates did

The debate was the first time voters had a chance to compare the candidates side by side on live TV. Two out of the four candidates have already issued press releases each touting themselves as the winner. But we went to our political expert to find out who he thinks came out ahead.

The most contentious moment of the debate was over the city's budget deficit.

Mediator Melanie Lawson asked, "As city controller for the past five years, why didn't you sound the alarm sooner about such a huge deficit?"

Candidate Annise Parker responded, "Actually the mayor and I are very close on our number. I've said that the operating deficit is $102 million. The mayor has said $91 million."

But candidate Gene Locke used that budget question to criticize both Controller Annise Parker and Council Member Peter Brown in one swoop.

"The reality is we've got a problem. The reality is that Peter Brown and Annise Parker have been down there, and they've not sounded the alarm on the problem," Locke said. "Quiet as a church mouse."

Were the candidates on the mark? Mayor Bill White, who isn't backing anyone in the race to replace him, says the actual budget deficit is much smaller and going down daily as the city is making cuts.

"I want to say three or four weeks ago it was about $20 to 22 million left," White explained. "I think at a meeting early this week it was down to zero to five million dollars."

So were there any real winners? Council Member Peter Brown already issued a press release claiming he won the debate, but our political consultant says he was the one obvious loser.

"I thought Peter Brown probably has the least sort of style suited to television, choppy hand motions and other things," said KTRK Political Consultant Dr. Richard Murray.

Dr. Murray says since the candidates have very few policy differences, the biggest impact was how they appeared to a TV audience, and whether any of the four candidates actually looked like they could be mayor.

"I thought Annise Parker looked like in control, competent," Dr. Murray said. "Gene Locke seemed to be a serious guy and showed at times some passion in discussing issues."

Dr. Murray says Roy Morales, the fourth candidate, has raised just a few thousand dollars, compared to the hundreds of thousands by other candidates and therefore he says Morales won't be a major factor in this election.

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