HOUSTON — All in all (and, at three hours, all was a lot), it wasn’t a bad night for the home team, defined here as the two Texans struggling to stay relevant in the Democratic presidential nomination race.

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso was aggressive on gun control, a position that plays well among Democrats. And former San Antonio Mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro was aggressive on front-running Joe Biden, the ex-veep with whom Castro served in the Obama administration.

Did either Texan do anything to move beyond the single-digit netherland in which they’ve been mired? We’ll see. Doubtful. One debate does not a winning campaign make. But one debate can sink a candidacy. To me, neither O’Rourke nor Castro sank themselves at this third debate.

In pushing a position that probably does sink any chance he might have of bailing out of the presidential race and coming home to re-run for the U.S. Senate in a state with a strong gun culture, O’Rourke defended his call for a mandatory buyback of assault weapons, a position that differentiates him in the crowded Democratic field.

Asked if he’s calling for gun confiscation, he said, “I am, if it’s a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield.”

The forceful, impassioned words — does O’Rourke have any other kind? — came on a debate stage where several other candidates congratulated him for his efforts in the wake of the recent mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso.

In gripping detail about what a high-velocity bullet does — “shreds everything inside of your body because it was designed to do that so that you would bleed to death on a battlefield not able to get up and kill one of our soldiers” — O’Rourke said, "Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we’re not going to allow them to be used against other Americans anymore.”

Castro’s strongest moments came in a head-to-head battle with Biden sparked by questions about Obama’s high rate of deportations, a reality from which Biden has sought to distance himself.

“My problem with Vice President Biden … is every time something good about Barack Obama comes up,” Castro said, “he says, ‘Oh, I was there, I was there, I was there. That’s me, too.’ And then every time somebody questions part of the administration that we were both part of, he said ‘Well that was the president.’ I mean, he wants to take credit for Obama's work but not have to answer to any questions.”

Too much? Too aggressive? To some ears, perhaps. But such is the plight of a single-digit candidate when he has a chance to go face-to-face with the frontrunner.

And, for the record, in the face of other questions about Obama administration decisions, Biden said, “I stand with Barack Obama all eight years, good, bad and indifferent. That's where I stand. I did not say I did not stand with him.”

Both Texans did well, for what it’s worth at a point when both are persistently mired near the bottom of the polls. Castro was solid. O’Rourke (pre-warned there’d be no delay) didn’t drop a freakin’ F bomb.

We’re at an odd, yet potentially critical, point in the 2020 race. Some voters have seen and heard plenty from all the candidates. For others, events like the Thursday debate are still early glimpses. And yet others are already lined up behind candidates who could be long gone before any ballots are printed. So second choices matter.

For the two candidates who were playing on their home-state turf, this debate was a pivotal step in their immediate goal: Avoiding moving from also-running to also-ran. Sometime, maybe sometime soon, it’s all about survival, and candidates with long-term plans are forced to become more concerned with day-to-day survival and keeping the staff paychecks from bouncing.

For now, Beto’s best shot might be as the back-up Biden as the relatively middle-of-the-road (though perhaps less so now with his mandatory weapon buyback program) white male who can become a top choice for some if (when?) Biden falters. There’s only a chance of that happening every time the ex-veep Biden opens his mouth and cranks up the gaffe machine.

Castro also has a route up the polls. He’s the only Hispanic in the field and, though it hasn’t done much for him so far, it’s generally not a bad thing to be in a crowded Democratic field.

But Castro has to show he is far more than the only Hispanic in the race. And O’Rourke has to show he is far more than a great stump speaker.

Both made some progress Thursday night. Now we'll see if it's enough progress to help them to still be when Iowa and New Hampshire roll around.