Royce West Faces An Uphill, But Not Impossible, Battle Against MJ Hegar

The May runoff election will decide which Democrat will challenge Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn for the U.S. Senate in November.

By Jill AmentMarch 5, 2020 7:08 am

By the end of Super Tuesday, it still wasn’t clear who would face MJ Hegar in a runoff to face Republican incumbent John Cornyn in the race for U.S. Senate in November. But finally, on Wednesday, a field of 12 candidates was winnowed  to two: Hegar and North Texas state Sen. Royce West. Their runoff election will be in late May.

Before Wednesday’s results, though, West had started to pull ahead of labor activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, but just by a single percentage point. The two were neck and neck for much of Super Tuesday evening. Tzintzún Ramirez conceded Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m proud of the race we ran. I ran as a woman, a Latina, a working mom, a progressive, that got spent – outspent – four to one by MJ Hegar, and came in a close third to the incredible Royce West,” Tzintzún Ramirez tells the Texas Standard.

She says despite the race for second place being very close, her campaign didn’t want to call a recount.

As big as it is in Texas, and as expensive it is to do a recount, it felt like the best way forward was to look at the results we had and allow the two candidates to move forward and allow Texas to get down to business for the runoff,” she says.

West, a longtime state senator from Dallas, is now gearing up for another tough contest with Hegar.

Hegar gained both statewide and national attention in 2018 for a surprisingly close loss to longtime Central Texas Republican Congressman John Carter. But that loss didn’t stop her from being one of the first candidates to launch a campaign to unseat Cornyn. Hegar quickly won an endorsement from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The move drew criticism from others in the race, including West and Tzintzún Ramirez. Hegar also raised more money than her opponents.

At his primary night watch party on Tuesday, West told reporters he knows he’s got his work cut out for him.

“Yes, we’ll have to raise money. Yes, the Democratic National Campaign Committee has put its thumb on it and given the person the advantage without interviewing the other persons. But you know the story of David and Goliath? I will end up being David in this one,” West said.

Renée Cross is senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. She agrees with West that going into the runoff, Hegar has the advantage. She says Hegar has greater name recognition among voters, but that’s not the only reason for her upper hand.

“[Also, her] strong support among Anglo women who are the demographic most likely to turn out to vote, especially in a May election. And the fact that Hegar may be able to access more money for a statewide campaign,” Cross says.

But Cross doesn’t underestimate West’s ability to catch up to Hegar, especially in a primary runoff election.

“He’s got support among the older voters who tend to vote. West has been around for a very long time, and those in the Dallas-Fort Worth area know him quite well. Plus, he has a lot of ties to other urban areas in Texas,” she says.

Hegar, who gained more than 22% of the vote on primary night, continues to position herself as the strongest candidate in the runoff, and beyond. Her campaign said in a statement on Wednesday that she was the “clear front-runner to take on Cornyn in November.”