8:50 a.m. Wednesday: Updated with a concession statement from state Sen. Royce West.
MJ Hegar will battle Republican incumbent John Cornyn for his U.S. Senate seat in November.
Tuesday, Air Force veteran Hegar defeated Dallas state Sen. Royce West in the Democratic runoff for Senate.
The last time Texas sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate was in 1993. But Hegar told her supporters during a virtual Zoom rally Tuesday evening that she would defeat Cornyn later this year.
“Stand with me, and let’s raise in one solid voice to John Cornyn: Pack it up, buttercup, because your time is done," Hegar said. "You’ve become D.C., and it’s time that we return this seat back to a Texan.”
Hegar's campaign called the race around 11:20 p.m. Tuesday. If elected, she would become Texas’ second female U.S. senator and its first female Democrat.
West would have been the state’s first Black senator.
On Wednesday morning, West conceded the race in a statement released by his campaign. West congratulated Hegar on her win.
"I have been working to elect Democrats for decades, and I look forward to turning Texas blue in November," he said.
In the statement, West thanked voters, donors and supporters who volunteered in his campaign, as well as his family. He also reflected on how far Black Americans have come in a few decades, noting that his mother wasn't allowed to vote when he was born.
"She reminded me of this bracing fact this week. It brought home to me both how far African Americans have come as a people, and how much more work is to be done," he said. "I’m proud my mother was able to vote for me in this race, and I am re-energized today to continue my work as a state senator, addressing the needs of my constituents. We will keep working for justice in Texas."
Originally scheduled for May, the runoff election was bumped to July as a result of the pandemic. Hegar and West had also faced off during March’s primary, but a runoff was scheduled after neither received more than 50% of the vote.
The race was a contentious one, The Hill reported, with Hegar accusing her opponent of enriching himself through his political office. West, meanwhile, criticized Hegar’s party allegiance and voting record.
It’s not the first time Hegar has run for Congress. During her bid for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, Hegar lost by 3 percentage points to incumbent Republican John Carter, according to The New York Times. Still, Hegar substantially outperformed Carter’s previous opponent, who had lost by more than 20 points.
With that momentum, Hegar believes she has what it takes to make it all the way to the Senate this year.
“We’re going to turn the direction of this entire country from right here in Texas. And let’s be honest: That’s exactly how it should be, right?" she said. "I’m very excited. We’re going to defeat Cornyn.”
Although former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke came close to winning in 2018, the Democrat was ultimately defeated by incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. Still, Hegar doesn’t think she’ll suffer a similar fate. Rather, she believes O’Rourke’s near-win has cleared the way for a blue wave to engulf the ruby-red state.
Hegar might not be far off. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is currently enjoying a 5-point lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. Not to mention, a recent Quinnipiac poll found that Cornyn has an anemic approval rating of 37%.
As a guest on a Texas Monthly podcast, Hegar condemned Cornyn’s three-term tenure as a U.S. senator.
“He’s been a statewide politician here for nearly four decades and has very low name ID, which should tell you something about how much he’s leading and working,” she said.
Throughout her campaign, Hegar has billed herself a tattooed, motorcycle-loving, tougher-than-nails veteran and mother-of-two. While she was serving in Afghanistan, Hegar’s helicopter was shot down and she was injured by enemy gunfire. She was later awarded a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor award, according to her website.
As senator, Hegar says she would fight for greater veterans’ assistance and for universal health care, as well as to raise the minimum wage and to uphold a woman’s right to abortion. Hegar is also calling for an end to child separation at the border and for comprehensive gun reform.
She also would push for advancements in clean energy manufacturing to combat climate change and break the U.S.’ dependency on foreign oil.
“I don’t think another country, or another entity, like [The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries], should be able to have such an impact on our economy," Hegar said during an interview with ABC.
So far, Cornyn has raised $14.5 million for his reelection campaign. Meanwhile, The Texas Tribune reported that Hegar’s campaign has raised $2 million, outspending West's 85 to 1.
Still, the West campaign was confident throughout the night that it would come out on top in its race against Hegar. Campaign spokesman Vince Leibowitz predicted that the race would come down to around just 10,000 votes.
About a half-hour after the polls closed in Texas, West's wife, Carol, appeared in a Facebook Live video on the campaign’s page. She said they were planning on making history in Texas and in Washington, and that the campaign's main goal has been common sense legislation that benefits every American.
In a tweet just 12 hours before, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins encouraged voters to cast their ballot for West.
Today is Election Day 7a-7p. Vote @RoyceWestTX for US Senate in the Democratic Runoff. Experienced. Record on justice reform, public education, healthcare. Send Mr. West to Washington! Locations: https://t.co/74BRd9l51k— Clay Jenkins (@JudgeClayJ) July 14, 2020
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“Send Mr. West to Washington!” Jenkins said.
West said that throughout his campaign he felt he was facing two Goliaths: Cornyn’s misrepresentation of him and Hegar’s ad campaign against him. But he said that whatever happened, the party needed to unify if they wanted to beat Cornyn in November.
Earlier in the night, Carol West said people could find comfort in knowing that the Democratic Party is strong.
“We are working to make it even stronger,” she said.