Texas voter tsunami could flush Trump ally Cornyn out of Senate
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, seen with President Donald Trump at top right, is in danger of being swept from office by a massive voter uprising in that state. Hopes are rising that Democratic challenger MJ Hegar, left, could have a chance to topple the president's favorite Texas senator. | Photos: AP

A voter uprising is sweeping Texas, where more early ballots have already been cast than in the entire 2016 election. One person who should be very worried by this is incumbent GOP U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, in danger of being caught up in a voter tsunami that could carry the state for Joe Biden.

The three-term senator is locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger MJ Hegar, an Air Force pilot and military veteran seeking to be the first Democrat to win statewide in 30 years. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris campaigned in three major Texas cities, boosting Hegar at every opportunity, and Democratic-aligned super PACs are pouring millions into the state in signs of the race’s competitiveness.

The battle is one of 15 hotly-contested races to determine control of the U.S. Senate. Without a Democratic majority, a Biden administration would face severe obstruction to its agenda by the GOP. Democrats need a net gain of just three seats.

Poll analysis at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com heavily favors Cornyn. However, Cook Report analyst Dave Wasserman says races in Texas, Arizona, and Florida could pivot on Latino voters’ big turnout. Latinos are driving the demographic shifts in the state and will make up a plurality by 2021. Youth turnout in Texas is up 600% compared to 2016, and many are Latino youth.

An outpouring of energized women voters, who favor Biden-Harris 61% to 37% and make up 54% of early voters, is buoying Hegar. Women lead the resistance to the Trump/GOP policies as well as voter mobilization efforts, and there are women candidates running at every level. Hegar is among 12 Democratic women running for the U.S. Senate, including three vying to unseat GOP incumbents in other close races.

COVID resurgence

The election occurs amid a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus in Texas, which leads the nation with one million infections. Trump and GOP state elected officials bungled the response, resulting in an outpouring of anger. Voters consistently rank the pandemic as their top issue.

Over 3.7 million Texans have lost jobs since the coronavirus crisis began, and 1.6 million have lost healthcare. Cornyn and his GOP colleagues moved heaven and earth to seat Amy Coney Barrett on the U.S. Supreme Court in record time, yet they have let a second coronavirus and economic rescue package sit since May amid widespread suffering.

Besides, Cornyn voted 20 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act and supported Barrett with the expectation she will join a right-wing Supreme Court majority and strike down the act, leaving 20 million Americans without healthcare.

Texas trending blue

And it’s not like Cornyn is surprised by the close contest he finds himself in. He was among the first to ring the alarm bells for Republicans after Beto O’Rourke came within 215,000 votes (2.5%) of defeating Ted Cruz in 2018. In July, Cornyn told the virtual GOP state convention, “I’ll be blunt because I know I’m among friends here: Republicans are facing the greatest electoral challenge we’ve faced in the last five decades.”

Since 2018, over one million Texans have registered to vote, and progressive organizations are laser-focused on mobilizing them and infrequent voters to the polls. What makes 2020 different is Trump is on the ballot driving the record turnout. But what’s also different is Cornyn’s approval ratings are around 38%, lower than Cruz’s 52% before the 2018 election.

Trump hangs like a weight around Cornyn’s neck. He has been in the GOP Senate leadership for years and earned those low approval marks by carrying contaminated water for Trump. Like other Republicans, Cornyn is slavishly subservient and fears risking Trump’s wrath and that of his base. Cornyn full-throatedly embraced the border wall, family separation, white supremacists, climate denial, and forced reopening of the economy during the pandemic.

“John Cornyn has basically done and said whatever Donald Trump has told him to, no matter how outrageous the behavior,” said Murray Newman, a Houston lawyer. “The senator from Texas hasn’t stood up to him a single time. Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing.”

Cornyn tries to portray himself as a “compassionate conservative” and meekly expresses independence to win moderate voters fleeing the GOP. “I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump,” feigned Cornyn. “He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between.”

But Hegar dismisses Cornyn’s protestations. “I just think it’s too little, too late,” she said. “I think that Texans have a very sensitive BS meter. I think we see right through it.”

A broad coalition backs Hegar, including women, communities of color, youth, organized labor, other democratic movements, and Republican moderate and suburban voters alienated by Trump and GOP extremism.

In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cornyn said he privately disagrees with Trump but admittedly never to his face. “Maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well,” he said.

Sexist comments like that rankle women voters and many men, too. “It makes me feel like some of these guys haven’t met a Texas woman in the last couple of decades,” said Hegar. “We kick butt, and we are standing up for our kids, standing up for their future, and we’re going to vote out these dinosaurs that try to put women in little categories. They don’t see us as equals and value our voices. The answer to that is to get more of us elected.”

Hegar’s program speaks to shifting voter attitudes, including in what was once a ruby-red state. She advocates ending the caging of children and family separation, strengthening the ACA with a public option, promotes a scientific approach to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, protecting workers’ rights to join unions, and the right to an abortion.

Given the role of oil industry jobs in Texas, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hegar run from Biden’s remarks in the last presidential debate calling for a transition off fossil fuels. However, she didn’t retreat, even though she nominally opposes the Green New Deal.

“Texas wants to lead in the energy industry,” she told MSNBC. “If we don’t jump on the train of renewable energy, we’re going to get left behind. We’ve lost half of the energy sector jobs in Texas since 2014, not just because of COVID. And we’re in danger of losing more jobs if we don’t jump on this train.”

Hegar is riding the train transforming Texas. Nov. 3 will reveal how powerful it is.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the CPUSA from 2014 to 2019. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.