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Rep. Joaquin Castro won't challenge Cornyn for Senate in Texas

Castro's decision leaked on conference call with Cornyn

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro isn’t running for Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro won’t be challenging GOP Sen. John Cornyn in 2020. 

“Right now, I’m going to focus on my work in the House of Representatives. I’ve been doing what I feel is important and meaningful work here,” Castro told the San Antonio Express-News, which first reported the news. “If and when I run for another office, it is likely to be something that takes me back home to Texas.” 

Castro’s decision came out, inadvertently, in a politically dramatic fashion. He told a reporter who was simultaneously on a press conference call with Cornyn but hadn’t muted the other line.

Castro is the second high-profile Democrat in as many days to pass on challenging a Republican senator in 2020. Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams on Tuesday announced she would not run against Sen. David Perdue. Castro and Abrams join a growing crowd of ambitious Democrats who are saying “no thanks” to the Senate

Castro’s twin brother, Julián, is running for president and Joaquin is one of the co-chairs of the presidential campaign. Castro’s adviser recently told the Texas Tribune that the congressman’s lackluster fundraising quarter was due in part to his focus on supporting his brother’s presidential bid.

The four-term congressman raised $36,000 in the first three months of the year and ended the quarter with $88,000 on hand.  Cornyn, meanwhile, has been building a massive war chest, ending the first fundraising quarter with $7.4 million on hand. 

Joaquin Castro chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He recently led the effort in Congress to overturn President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border. Latino Victory Fund had launched a campaign to draft Castro into the Senate race. 

Cornyn still faces a campaign. Last week, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who raised more than $5 million in an unsuccessful House race in 2018, announced that she was jumping in the race. She has been in contact with EMILY’s List, which is hoping to back a woman Senate candidate in the Lone Star State. 

Cornyn’s campaign cast Castro’s decision as a slight from Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer against the congressman.

“Despite Rep. Castro saying he was all but certain to run, Chuck Schumer and DC Democrats had other ideas. Chuck Schumer recruited and picked MJ ‘Hollywood’ Hegar instead, pushing Castro aside and ignoring the Texas Latino grassroots,” Cornyn campaign manager John Jackson said in a statement.

And they used the opportunity to take a shot at Hegar. 

“Hollywood Hegar may have the support of the New York and California elites but she has none in Texas. Shame on Chuck Schumer and DC Democrats for forcing a high-profile Hispanic leader out of the Senate race,” Jackson added.

Hegar praised Castro's public service on Wednesday. 

“I am laser-focused on our shared goal of defeating Senator Cornyn next November,” she said in a statement. “Texans deserve a new Senator who reflects our values of strength, courage, and independence - someone who will always do what’s right for our state and put Texas first.”

A Democrat has not won statewide in Texas since 1994, although former Rep. Beto O’Rourke came close to defeating GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, losing by just 3 points. O’Rourke has opted to run for president instead of running for the Senate against Cornyn.

Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2020 Senate contest solid Republican.

Simone Pathe contributed to this report. 

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