Democratic candidates for Texas U.S. Senate seat debate as early voting begins

The Democrats running for U.S. Senate in Texas debated for the first time on Tuesday as early voting got underway in the 2020 Texas primaries.

Eleven of the candidates in the crowded field fighting for the chance to face Republican incumbent U.S. Senator John Cornyn met for the 90 minute faceoff in Austin. The chance for a runoff is high with so many people running.

Frontrunner MJ Hegar, from central Texas, was the only candidate to poll in double digits in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released on Monday. She's a military veteran and attacked Cornyn for his lifetime in politics.

“I would argue the Texans that I have met across the state don’t feel that he has done anything for them. People in Texas are looking for fresh faces and voices and not going by the good ole boy policy,” Hegar said of Cornyn.

Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, from Houston, is in a group of candidates polling in the high single digits in the UT/TT poll. She’s seen as one of the more liberal candidates and says she's not afraid to stand on her progressive views.

“To defeat John Cornyn we need to drive up voter turnout, no one knows how to better do that other than me. I’m proud to have brought in thousands of Latino voters into the process, to be running a campaign as a working mom and knows how to harness the power of mothers everywhere,” Tzintzun Ramirez.

State Senator Royce West, from Dallas, was also among the candidates polling in high single digits. He fended off attacks from multiple candidates about him being a state politician for than 20 years.

“We have to make certain we have a dose of reality. No Democrat is going to win by being far left, it’s not going to happen. You have to put together Democrats, Republicans and independents. So you need someone that has those experiences,” West said.

SMU Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson says Democrats will be looking at a May runoff. He says Hegar is the clear frontrunner, but believes there is a big lack of statewide name recognition among all the candidates.

Wilson thinks either west or Ramirez has a good chance to join Hegar by getting their bases to turn out.

“Who can best become the recognized champion of their ethnic group? If she becomes the Latina candidate, she can make the runoff. If he becomes the African American candidate, he can make the runoff. The question is which one can get their own ethnic community to galvanize behind them,” Wilson said.

Cornyn has held his seat in the U.S. Senate since 2002 and knows Democrats could have another statewide push like they did in the 2018 midterms.

“I think it was a 2x4 to the side of the head. I think it was a wakeup call that Republicans have gotten too complacent,” Cornyn said on Tuesday during a visit to Fort Worth.

Cornyn watched fellow senate Republican Ted Cruz barely win re-election against Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke.

“I don’t take anything for granted, that is why I am getting around the state as much as I can,” Cornyn said.

The Texas Tribune says Cornyn has raised $12 million dollars as he prepares to face the eventual Democratic nominee.

VoteVets is spending $3.3 million in TV ads for Hegar. She is the only Democratic candidate with ads airing statewide.

Tuesday’s debate was hosted by KVUE-TV, KUT-FM (Austin) and The Texas Tribune.