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Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate

Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzStrategist behind Warren's political rise to meet with O'Rourke: report Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform Sanders to Colbert: 'You will be my vice presidential candidate!' MORE (R) and Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkeThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Bush memorial service in Houston | House passes two-week spending measure | Markets drop after Chinese executive's arrest Chris Matthews: Beto O’Rourke should run for president Andrew Gillum met with Obama during DC visit: report MORE (D) lashed out at each other over immigration, school safety and police shootings on Friday night as they appeared for the first debate of their hotly contested Senate race.

Fireworks quickly erupted between the pair in the Dallas debate hall, with O'Rourke hitting Cruz over immigration while the GOP senator knocked his Democratic challenger over his comments about police.

Here are five takeaways from Friday night’s debate:

O’Rourke goes toe-to-toe with seasoned debater

From start to finish, the hourlong debate between Cruz and O’Rourke was fiery and contentious.

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Cruz, a seasoned debater going back to his days at Princeton University, leaned on his experience during the competitive 2016 GOP presidential primary, when he appeared in more than a dozen high-profile debates.

But even as Cruz aggressively went after O’Rourke in the debate Friday, the Democratic congressman punched back, interrupting the incumbent several times when he claimed the senator was mischaracterizing his positions.

“That’s why people don’t like Washington, D.C.,” O’Rourke remarked at one point. “This is your trick and trade, to confuse and incite with fear.”

The audience was also rowdy throughout the debate, loudly cheering both candidates. The debate moderators had to repeatedly interject and remind the audience to refrain from clapping.

Even when the candidates were asked at the end to say what they admire about one another — which they did — Cruz got in a subtle jab at O'Rourke, comparing him to Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersChildren's singer Raffi on criticizing Trump: 'You have to fight fascism with everything you’ve got' Sanders to Colbert: 'You will be my vice presidential candidate!' Sanders: Trump said midterms were about him, and he lost MORE’s (I-Vt.) democratic socialist views.

O’Rourke simply responded, “True to form.”

Immigration will be a major flashpoint

Immigration was the first question of the night and immediately showed the divisions between the two candidates.

O’Rourke called for an “earned” path to citizenship for immigrations known as "Dreamers," who came to the country illegally as children, accusing Cruz of being focused on deporting them.

“Sen. Cruz has promised to deport each and every single Dreamer,” O’Rourke said.

But Cruz laid out his immigration position in four words: “Legal: good. Illegal: bad.”

The GOP senator called for President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony MORE’s signature campaign promise of a border wall. He also accused O’Rourke of taking the side of immigrants in the country illegally.

“It’s striking that Congressman O’Rourke, over and over and over again, his focus seems to be on fighting for illegal immigrants,” Cruz said. “Americans are dreamers too."

Cruz bets on Clinton as effective boogeyman

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonComey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony Clinton among VIPS attending pre-wedding celebrations for daughter of India’s richest man Comey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant MORE won’t be on the ballot this November, but Cruz repeatedly invoked the former Democratic presidential candidate as a way to paint O’Rourke as a liberal.

Cruz has frequently called out O’Rourke for being too liberal for Texas and has accused him of trying to appeal to “liberal Hollywood.”

When asked about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the allegations of sexual assault against him, Cruz said he wanted both Kavanaugh and the accuser to testify. But he quickly pivoted to O’Rourke opposing the nominee because he sides with Clinton.

“O’Rourke agrees with Hillary Clinton, he wants liberal judicial activists on the court,” Cruz stated.

O’Rourke responded that he doesn’t believe Kavanaugh is fit to serve because of his “troubling history” regarding voting rights protections. He also called for a full FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations.

And during an exchange about the Second Amendment, Cruz pushed O’Rourke on whether he voted for Clinton in 2016. O’Rourke rebuffed his question, saying it was irrelevant.

Trump factors into race — on both sides

Cruz was asked to square his bitter relationship with Trump from the 2016 campaign to his more glowing recent comments about the president.

The Texas senator, who is set to campaign alongside Trump next month, said there were some “hard shots thrown” in the GOP primary but he said that he made a deliberate choice to work with the president.

“I could have chosen to make it about myself, to say my feelings are hurt and take my marbles and go home,” Cruz said. "I think that would have been not doing the job I was elected to do."

O’Rourke then denounced Cruz for not standing up to Trump on foreign election interference, saying that Texas “needs a U.S. senator who will stand up to this president where we must.”

Cruz quickly went after O’Rourke’s past comment that he would vote to impeach Trump because of his performance at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July.

O’Rourke noted a few times that he’s willing to work with the president when there’s common ground, at one point saying that he didn’t care about party.

"We are not running against anyone ... anything ... or against a political party,” O’Rourke said. “We are running for this country. By and for each and every single one of us. Whatever the challenge is, I know we are up to the task." 

Police, shootings emerge as wedge issue

With the debate being held in Dallas, last month's shooting of an unarmed black man in the city by an officer who wandered into the wrong apartment came up repeatedly, with candidates using the incident to spar over several issues.

When asked if police violence against African-Americans is a problem, Cruz said all rights should be protected “regardless of race and ethnicity.” But he pivoted to attacking O’Rourke for jumping to conclusions about the situation and police.

Cruz criticized O'Rourke over his call for Amber Guyger, the Dallas officer who fatally shot Botham Jean in his own apartment, to be fired.

"It’s a troubling pattern," Cruz said of O’Rourke. "He sides against the police.”

O’Rourke also reitereated his defense of supporting NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as a way to protest police brutality.

And when answering a question about his 1998 drunk driving arrest, O’Rourke took the opportunity to talk about his "privilege" as a white man and said African-Americans who face arrests should also get a "second chance."

The two also sparred over the response to deadly school shootings.

"Thoughts and prayers, Sen. Cruz, are just not going to cut it anymore,” O’Rourke said.

But Cruz pushed back, saying he supports the idea of more police officers in schools and arming more teachers. 

"I'm sorry that you don't like thoughts and prayers. I will pray for anyone in harm's way," he said.