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National Democrats Throw Monkey Wrench into Texas Democratic Senate Primary

In a broad sense, this is all Beto O'Rourke's fault. If the former U.S. representative had just listened — to activists, party insiders, polls or basically anyone not living in his own head — and run for U.S. Senate rather that president, Texas Democrats would already be in general election mode. They'd be focused on how to take down Sen. John Cornyn, rather than trying to get out of their own way as candidates voters couldn't pick out of a lineup straggle toward Democrats' March 3 primary.

Monday, the Democrats looking to unseat Cornyn held their very own circular firing squad.

The first shot came from Air Force veteran and former U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar, with a little help from the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which endorsed Hegar on Monday morning.

“Texas has emerged as a battleground opportunity for Democrats up and down the ballot, and MJ Hegar is the strongest candidate to flip the U.S. Senate seat," DSCC chair and Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement. "As a decorated combat veteran and working mother, MJ has both the courage and independence to put Texas first and is running on the issues that matter most to Texans: making health care and prescription drugs more affordable, protecting coverage for Texans with preexisting conditions and taking action to address climate change."

Texas Sen. Royce WestEXPAND
Texas Sen. Royce West
Mikel Galicia

Hegar's endorsement set off a barrage of criticisms from her competitors, some of which, particularly from Dallas state Sen. Royce West, went beyond sour grapes carping.

The DSCC, West said, is trying to marginalize Texas' black voters.

“The DSCC is trying to lock African Americans out of the process. That is a slap in the face to 11.6% of our state’s population that identifies as African American,” West said. “However, we will not be locked out of this process. African Americans will turn out in large numbers and they will vote their conscience, and not the DSCC’s choice. Of that, I am confident.”

West didn't even get the chance to interview for the committee's endorsement, his campaign said.

“The DSCC cannot give the impression they are trying to rig our elections and diminish minority voices,” West campaign spokesman Vince Leibowitz said. “Remember what happened in 2016.”

David Sanchez, the campaign director for JOLT Texas founder and Democratic organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, struck a similar tone.

"The DSCC endorsement is tone-deaf to the diverse Texas electorate. They have decided to ignore several more qualified and experienced candidates of color, who have done the work to transform the politics of our state, in favor of a former Republican," Sanchez said.

Sanchez's last line is an apparent jab at Hegar's having voted in the 2016 GOP primary. Her campaign, according to the Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek, says that she did so, and voted for Carly Fiorina, to protest President Donald Trump's campaign.

Representatives of Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards and former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, both Senate candidates along with West and Ramirez, also denounced the endorsement.

"Rolling out this endorsement in between two holidays and before the New Year only draws attention to the fact that recent polls continue to show that, despite her campaign having already spent well over a million dollars, (Hegar's) support is slipping as Texans learn more about her candidacy," Bell said in a statement.

Even Texas Republicans, who have to be rubbing their hands together with glee over this whole thing, got in on the act.

"Democrats talk about diversity in their party, yet this latest move proves they are all talk and no action," Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said. "Last we checked, there was an African American state senator, African American city councilwoman and a Latina liberal activist running in the Democrat Primary as well, and yet [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer is pushing them aside for MJ Hegar — whose only notable claim to political fame is losing a congressional race in spite of raising an absurd amount of money from outside Texas.”

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