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State Sen. Royce West Enters Democratic Primary To Challenge John Cornyn

Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson
The Texas Tribune
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, has joined a crowded Democratic primary to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

State Sen. Royce West made it official Monday: He’s running for U.S. Senate, joining a crowded and unsettled Democratic primary in the race to unseat Republican John Cornyn.

“I’m battle tested,” West told supporters at a campaign launch event. “You’ve seen me in battle, and I’m ready today to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate.”

The Dallas attorney has been viewed as a potential primary contender for some time now, but he remained mum publicly on his plans. In June, West met with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., where he reportedly had a “positive meeting” and signaled that he was likely to throw his hat in the ring. He filed the Federal Election Commission paperwork to formally launch his bid Friday.

West has served in the Texas Senate since 1993. He was elected to another four-year term in 2018 and will not have to give up his seat to challenge Cornyn. ​​​​​​

The Democrat formally launched his bid a block away from the Democratic Party’s headquarters in Dallas. Supporters — including colleagues, party leaders and elected officials — huddled at the Communications Workers of America Union Hall to give a nod of support to West’s U.S. Senate launch. During his kickoff speech, West said that, if elected, he would work on immigration reform, curbing the negative effects of climate change, ensuring Americans have “affordable universal health care” and promoting fair elections.

He also said that 10 of the 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate encouraged him to “move forward” and run for U.S. Senate. Forty-seven out of the 67 Democrats in the Texas House have done the same, he said.

“We need an individual who is seasoned, who knows what they’re doing and who has support from the state of Texas,” said state Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio, who is the co-finance chair for West’s campaign. “Sen. West has a big voice, a big presence, has a lot of knowledge of the state, and I just think he can represent us really well up in D.C.”

A number of prominent Democrats — including U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk — also praised West for wading into the primary field.

“We are here to present today a change agent who will bring forth justice and fairness,” said Johnson, a Dallas Democrat. “We could use a lot of that in Texas.”

West’s announcement comes days after Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, another Democrat, launched her bid for U.S. Senate. The two enter a crowded primary that includes MJ Hegar, a 2018 U.S. House candidate and retired Air Force helicopter pilot, and Chris Bell, a former Houston congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee.

A group of Democratic progressive operatives is also working to draft Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the founder and executive director of Jolt, a nonprofit she started three years ago to mobilize young Latinos in Texas politics.

“It’s going to be a long road,” West said. Still, he described the process as “healthy for the Democratic Party.”

Whoever wins the primary will square off against a well-established Republican incumbent who has already amassed a war chest topping $9 million. In the latest fundraising quarter, Cornyn raised more than $2.5 million, compared with Hegar’s $1 million haul.

Responding to West’s announcement on Twitter, Cornyn said West “stood with the most liberal wing of his party to support painful, late-term abortions.”

In an emailed statement, Cornyn campaign manager John Jackson said that “whoever limps out of the runoff will face a grassroots army motivated to elect John Cornyn and stop Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren’s agenda.”

Still, Democrats have remained hopeful in their ability to flip Cornyn’s seat after Beto O’Rourke’s hard-fought, nationally watched U.S. Senate race against incumbent Ted Cruz last year. The former El Paso congressman lost by a small margin of three points — a tighter race than Democrats have achieved in years. Several statewide Republican incumbents, meanwhile, were elected by mere single digits.

Alex Samuels is a reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune and a journalism senior at The University of Texas at Austin. She came to the Tribune in fall 2016 as a newsletters fellow, writing the daily Brief and contributing to the water, education and health newsletters. Alex previously worked for USA Today College as both a collegiate correspondent and their first-ever breaking news correspondent. She has also worked for the Daily Dot where she covered politics, race, and social issues.