Friday night’s debate between Democrat MJ Hegar and Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn is the first between the two candidates.
Under normal circumstances, a Senate debate wouldn’t get a lot of viewers or media coverage, at least compared to a presidential debate. But Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, says tonight’s debate could be different with more people stuck at home because of the pandemic and possibly more willing to pay attention to politics. Cross told Texas Standard it could be an opportunity for both candidates to gain some traction with voters who may not know much about them.
“People still don’t have an opinion of these candidates,” Cross said. “This debate should give an opportunity for the voters to become much more aware of the candidates and their stances.”
Cross said she expects Cornyn and Hegar to debate the pandemic response, health care, the economy and the nomination process of President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
Hegar is 8 percentage points behind Cornyn, according to a recent UT/Texas Tribune poll. But Cross said it’s possible for Hegar to close that gap, which she has been doing little by little.
This year’s Senate race is tamer than the one in 2018 between Democrat Beto O’Rourke and Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. Some of that was due to it being a midterm election. This year, Cornyn and Hegar have to compete with a pandemic and a presidential race, to get attention from voters. But also, neither candidate has the same kind of fervent support that O’Rourke and Cruz attracted.
“Cruz’s base and his supporters are passionate about him and Democrats certainly came to be passionate about Beto,” Cross said. “We just haven’t seen that between Cornyn and Hegar.”
The debate will be televised Friday at 7 p.m. CST.
This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Renée Cross is a senior director at the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, not UT-Houston, as was previously stated.