Democrats had big hopes for Texas, but the party’s Senate candidate lags behind longtime Republican incumbent John Cornyn six weeks before Election Day.
MJ Hegar, a U.S. Air Force veteran and teacher, has closed the double-digit gap between her and Cornyn. Yet she continues to trail the senator, first elected in 2002, by an average of 8.3 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics.
Democrats were optimistic early in the cycle that demographic shifts and a hard-fought presidential race in Texas would help their picks up and down the ballot, particularly after then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s surprisingly strong Senate bid in 2018. While those factors may still influence House contests on the ticket this fall, they don’t seem to be elevating Hegar.
For Republican strategist Derek Ryan, Hegar is struggling given her low name recognition. In comparison, Cornyn was the state’s attorney general and a judge. That wasn’t all Hegar’s doing, Ryan said. Hegar, who unsuccessfully vied for Texas’s 31st Congressional District north of Austin in 2018, was delayed in introducing herself to the broader electorate because her primary runoff was pushed to July.
Although Ryan admitted the Cornyn-Hegar matchup could become “extremely tight,” maybe with a 1- to 2-point margin, he believed other more lucrative Democratic targets were attracting out-of-state funding over Hegar.
Kentucky Democrat and retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, for instance, raised $47 million to Hegar’s $6.5 million as of June for her battle against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump won Texas in 2016 by 9 points but dominated in Kentucky by more than 3 times that.
“About 20 different TV media markets across the state makes it hard for Hegar to get her name out there to potential voters. Running TV in Texas is very expensive,” Ryan said.
To that end, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee promised this summer that it would make a “seven-figure coordinated investment” in Texas but is yet to reserve any airtime in the state. Hegar’s camp, though, has made an initial $1.5 million TV buy in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, and Harlingen, reaching 80% of voters in those population centers.
DSCC spokeswoman Helen Kalla said the cash injection would cover ads, polling, field organizing, and data support. She added Cornyn, McConnell’s “top lieutenant,” is “deeply vulnerable” against the decorated combat veteran and mom.
“Cornyn’s weak approval ratings show Texans are tired of him putting his corporate special interest pals over Texas’s working families and are ready to give him the boot,” she told the Washington Examiner.
Despite Cornyn consistently leading in polls, he hasn’t cracked the 50% threshold, and a survey found this week his job approval-disapproval numbers were 35% to 33%.
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez wasn’t deterred, confident in Cornyn’s chances on Nov. 3.
“Democrats have tried every trick in the book to make this race relevant, but the reality is there is nothing liberal MJ Hegar and her benefactor Chuck Schumer can do to stop her from losing for the second time in a row,” she said, referring to the Senate minority leader.
Democrats need to gain three to four seats for a Senate majority in the next Congress, as Republicans defend 23 seats to the Democrats’ 12 seats.
Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones is likely to lose his race against Republican former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, according to the Cook Political Report. At the same time, the nonpartisan election prognosticator predicts Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona and Cory Gardner of Colorado, both members of the GOP, are likely to be defeated by Democrats Mark Kelly and John Hickenlooper, respectively.
Other contests to watch include Georgia’s regular Senate election, as well as Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina, which have been categorized as toss-ups.
Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue leads Democratic documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff by an average of 3.4 points, according to RealClearPolitics. GOP Montana Sen. Steve Daines is on rockier ground against Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock but is still ahead, with an average 1.6-point edge. Iowa is even more competitive. Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is behind Democratic businesswoman Theresa Greenfield by an average of 0.4 points in their head-to-head.
Democrats are better positioned to flip Maine and North Carolina.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins trails Democratic Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon by an average of 6 points. Meanwhile, Democratic ex-state Sen. Cal Cunningham has an average 4.2-point advantage on GOP Sen. Thom Tillis.