Air Force veteran MJ Hegar won the Democratic Senate primary runoff in Texas on Tuesday, advancing to face Republican incumbent John Cornyn in November.
Hegar’s victory was the second win of the night for a preferred candidate of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon easily won the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Sen. Susan Collins.
With an estimated 78 percent of precincts reporting, Hegar was leading state Sen. Royce West 52 percent to 48 percent when The Associated Press called the race.
Hegar had a financial advantage in the race, leveraging her donor base from an unsuccessful House campaign in 2018, when she came close to unseating GOP Rep. John Carter in a district that had backed President Donald Trump by 13 points two years earlier. She also had help in the Senate primary, including from the DSCC and EMILY’s List.
Despite the backing of the national party, Hegar said she was the underdog in the race since West was a longtime politician, representing a Dallas-based seat in the state Senate since 1993.
“The grassroots energy that has gelled behind this campaign and my ability to connect with people because I am a regular, working Texas mom has really pushed us to this point,” Hegar said on a call with reporters Tuesday night.
Shortly before her press call, West told reporters, “I felt like I was battling two Goliaths,” referring to the DSCC and Cornyn, whose campaign aired television and radio ads in the final stretch of the runoff that described West as liberal. Hegar’s campaign interpreted Cornyn’s meddling as a last-ditch effort to boost West’s appeal among liberal primary voters and deny Hegar the nomination.
West leveraged his base of support in Dallas. He stressed that he would be the state’s first Black senator if elected, and highlighted his record on criminal justice issues, looking to capitalize on recent protests against racism and police brutality.
Hegar, who emphasized that she is a political outsider, also highlighted the protests in her closing television ad of the primary runoff.
She now goes on to face Cornyn, a longtime fixture in Texas politics who is seeking a fourth Senate term. On Tuesday night, Hegar repeated a phrase she used during the primary race, telling Cornyn, “Pack it up, buttercup.”
Cornyn starts the general election with a sizable 14-to-1 financial advantage. His campaign announced Monday that it ended the second fundraising quarter on June 30 with $14.5 million on hand. Hegar’s campaign has already filed her second quarter report; she had $902,000 in the bank as of June 30.
Cornyn’s financial edge is significant in the Lone Star State where running a statewide campaign is expensive. But Democrats still believe Texas can be competitive in November, thanks to Trump’s slipping approval rating in the state’s growing and diversifying suburbs.
Trump carried the state by 9 points in 2016, the smallest margin for a GOP presidential nominee in Texas in recent elections. Inside Elections rates the Texas Senate race Lean Republican.