By Jack Fink

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Republicans vying to for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison squared off in Dallas Wednesday. But the frontrunner, David Dewhurst, chose not to attend.

Gay pride and the annual parade here in Dallas became a hot topic at the debate between republican U.S. Senate candidates.

Before the socially conservative Dallas Eagle forum, former ESPN broadcaster Craig James and former state solicitor general Ted Cruz had former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert on the defensive.

Cruz, a Tea Party favorite, said, “What I am saying is that when a mayor of a city chooses twice to march in a parade, celebrate gay pride, that’s a statement, and not a statement I agree with.”

James told Leppert, “I know you’re a Christian, I’m not doubting that Tom, but man, you got to stand up if you’re chosen as our senator and not do things like that.”

Leppert insists he has opposed gay marriage all along, but that, “My job as mayor was to represent everyone in this city. I visited with groups who I didn’t agree with what I said, and I didn’t agree with what they said, but it was my obligation to represent everybody.”

Mr. Leppert also defended his record as mayor when it came to the Trinity River Project.

It has received millions in earmarks from congress.

Republicans have railed against earmarks, which are often called “pork.”

Here again, Leppert maintained he opposes earmarks, but said it was his responsibility to see federal money when he was mayor.

“If we didn’t work to get it, the reality is the taxpayers of Dallas had their tax dollars go other places. I had to represent their interests and I had a fiduciary responsibility.”

James responded by saying, “If you think the trinity river project is a great deal, the free market will step in there and create the parks, buildings, hotel, structures.”

Cruz said, “I was visiting a town recently, and someone asked me what are you going to do for my town with regard to federal dollars, and I said candidly, ‘if you’re looking for someone to go to Washington to bring back pork here, I ain’t your guy’.”

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst didn’t attend — and political analyst John Weekley thinks that could hurt him.

“I think David Dewhurst did miss an opportunity because a lot of these are people who’ve supported him in the past for other offices as well as lieutenant governor,” Weekley told CBS 11 News.

A Dewhurst campaign spokesman said the lieutenant governor is campaigning before conservatives in Midland today, and looks forward to more campaign appearances in Dallas in the future.