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Texas

How A Three-Way Spat Could Influence The Texas Senate Race

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Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT and Michael Minasi/KUT
State Sen. Royce West, left, and U.S. Senate candidate MJ Hegar.

From Texas Standard:

The Texas Senate race is getting more attention this week because of a spat between the Democratic candidate and one of her former primary challengers. Long-time Democratic state Sen. Royce West of Dallas criticized MJ Hegar of neglecting Black voters in her U.S. Senate campaign.

In an interview with the Austin American-Statesman over the weekend, West said, "She’s had a problem all along with Black folks." He also said he wouldn't vote for her this election.

Gromer Jeffers, political writer for The Dallas Morning News, has spoken with West and told Texas Standard there are a few reasons why he's speaking out against Hegar.

For one, he questioned her bona fides as a Democrat; she has voted Republican before. She also didn't vote for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Jeffers said West considers that a sign that she's out of touch with Black voters. But what is perhaps the crux of West's frustration is that Hegar hasn't reached out to him for an endorsement. Hegar has said she doesn't seek endorsements, but that hasn't sat well with West.

"He feels like she's taken the Black vote for granted by not reaching out to him or other Black leaders," Jeffers said.

His criticism could negatively affect her chances of winning, not necessarily because one politician has the ability to hurt her campaign, but because of the buzz West's comments have created.

"The fact that we're talking about it, the fact that this has been a conversation in social media – that's what's not helpful," Jeffers said. "And if you're MJ Hegar, and you're already not really well known in communities of color, you don't want one of your first introductions to be that you dissed or that you disrespected a Black leader."

Jeffers said Cornyn has tried to use the spat to his advantage, running ads talking about how he would help Black communities and other communities of color. But Jeffers said Cornyn is "stirring the pot," and that most Black voters wouldn't be swayed to vote for him.

"He's not going to be able to get a mass of Black voters on his side. He's basically unknown to a lot of Black voters as well, even though he's been senator since 2002," Jeffers said.

Hegar needs all the advantage she can get over Cornyn, the Republican incumbent, because of the end of straight-ticket voting this year. Voters will have to specifically choose Hegar instead of just casting one vote for all the candidates in their chosen party. Jeffers said she has gone on the offensive with a "seven-figure" media buy of radio, print and digital ads targeting Black voters.

"So she is trying that route to reach Black voters, but ... she hasn't been reaching out to so-called Black leaders to get support," Jeffers said.

As the underdog in the Senate race, Hegar stands to lose the most from the controversy. But Jeffers said it could negatively affect all three politicians. West saying publicly that he won't vote in the Senate race is problematic in a time when Texas Democrats are unifying to try to flip the Texas House of Representatives. And Cornyn's ads could backfire with Black voters who might "see through" his strategy and turn to Hegar.

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