Battleground 2020Elections 2020FederalStatewide NewsDemocratic Senate Candidates Struggle to Stand Out Against Cornyn

Democratic candidates are struggling to stand out in the race to challenge Sen. John Cornyn, though MJ Hegar has raised the most money and is receiving support from a progressive veterans PAC.
February 3, 2020

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Two years ago when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was seeking reelection, his eventual Democratic challenger was already clear: Beto O’Rourke sat comfortably in the polls for his primary at 73 percent.

The circumstances for the Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate race in Texas this year looks quite different.

A crowded field of 12 candidates is vying for their party’s nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn.

Fundraising and Polling

While MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran, has by far outraised the other Democrats in the race, hauling in a total of $3.2 million last year — more than three times every other primary candidate, her polling numbers have not soared as far ahead as her cash on hand.

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Hegar led in a recent poll conducted by the Texas Lyceum at 11 percent, but 42 percent of those polled were undecided. She was also leading in another recent poll from UT-Tyler and The Dallas Morning News at eight percent with 56 percent undecided.

Trailing behind Hegar in the Texas Lyceum poll was State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), Workers Defense Project founder Christina Tzintzún Ramirez, and former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards.

Hegar was trailed in the UT poll by West, former Congressman Chris Bell, and small-business owner Annie Garcia.

Only Hegar raised over $1 million by the end of last year, though West came close with $957,000.

Tzintzún Ramirez and Edwards each also raised $807,000. Bell raised $319,000, but only had $8,000 cash on hand at the end of 2019.

All other Democratic candidates have raised less than $100,000.

Hegar’s slight edge in the primary race was boosted by an endorsement in December from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

That edge will likely be boosted even more, thanks to a $3.3 million ad buy on Hegar’s behalf from VoteVets, as reported by The Texas Tribune.

According to the Tribune, the advertising will begin on Tuesday and continue for the next two weeks, helping bolster Hegar’s name recognition ahead of the election next month.

Policy Positions

As the candidates have been trying to climb up in the polls, they have taken different policy positions that will attract different types of voters within the Democratic primary.

Tzintzún Ramirez, Bell, and Garcia have taken more progressive positions, while Hegar, West, and Edwards have taken more moderate positions by comparison.

On the subject of gun control, for example, all Democratic candidates have supported tighter regulations such as universal background checks or red flag laws.

But Hegar drew criticism from Tzintzún Ramirez and Bell for refusing to call for so-called “mandatory buybacks.”

West and Edwards have in turn called for a “voluntary buyback program.”

Garcia has proposed that gun owners should “carry liability insurance similar to what is required for drivers” and that “credit card companies should be required to track suspicious gun purchases.”

More policy divisions can be seen on issues such as the affordability of higher education and student loan debt.

Hegar calls for lower interest rates on education loans and grace periods before the loans begin accruing debt, and she also supports spending more in vocational training for specific trades.

Edwards says that the government should use the grants it provides universities as leverage to prohibit colleges from continually increasing tuition costs and argues that Pell Grants should be expanded — both in size and scope.

West contends that, “We need to invest in Community Colleges, offering free tuition for low-income students.”

Tzintzún Ramirez goes farther than the other three, supporting “canceling student debt” and “efforts to make public universities and community college tuition-free.”

In addition to the strategies of targeting different types of Democratic voters, the primary may also be determined in part based on geographical divisions.

West has built up a strong name-ID in the Dallas area, serving as a state senator since 1992.

Edwards and Bell will be competing for Houston voters, having both been elected to represent residents in the region in some capacity.

And Hegar will likely draw more voters closer to the Austin area, having built up some name recognition in the last election cycle when she ran a close race against Rep. John Carter (R-TX-31) in the district covering Round Rock and Temple.

Given the low polling in the crowded field, there will likely be a run-off after the March 3 primary election between the two candidates that receive the most votes.

The Incumbent

Meanwhile, Cornyn has continued to outraise all of the Democratic candidates combined.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, he raised $2.75 million, bringing his current amount of cash on hand to $12.1 million.

Cornyn does face several primary challengers, though none have thus far shown the level of support or fundraising that would suggest a serious challenge.

The four Republicans who have filed to run against the incumbent are: Virgil Bierschwale, John Anthony Castro, Dwayne Stovall, and Mark Yancey. 

Of the four, Stovall raised the most last year — $68,000.

In the most recent poll from UT, 56 percent of Republican voters said that they supported Cornyn, while 36 percent were undecided. Four percent supported Castro, two percent supported Stovall, and the other two candidates received one percent of support each.

While anything could happen, barring any surprising upsets, Cornyn is expected to sail smoothly to the general election.


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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is the Marketing and Media Manager for The Texan. After graduating with a double-major in Political Science and Humanities, he wrote for The Texan as a reporter through June 2022. In his spare time, you're likely to find him working on The Testimony of Calvin Lewis, an Abolition of Man-inspired novel and theatrical podcast.