Texas is holding runoffs in the Democratic primary for US Senate and several key US House of Representatives districts on Tuesday, July 14. 2018 House candidate MJ Hegar defeated State Senator Royce West in the runoff to face GOP Sen. John Cornyn in November. Texas' runoffs are taking place amid a particularly bad outbreak of COVID-19 in the state. While Texas has several days of early voting, the state fought in court against expanding vote by mail options.
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Polls in most of Texas closed at 7 p.m. Central Time and 8 p.m. Eastern Time. The stakes: Texas voters are picking nominees for several U.S. congressional races in Tuesday's runoff elections as the state battles a rampant surge in coronavirus cases. No candidate passed the 50 percent threshold required to appear on the November ballot in the state's March 3 Democratic primary, resulting in runoffs that were initially scheduled for May 26 but were postponed to Tuesday because of the pandemic. Texas, unlike many other states that have held elections during the public health crisis, did not expand access to mail-in ballots. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who believes widespread vote-by-mail would lead to increased voter fraud despite ample research showing mail ballot fraud is extremely rare, managed to ward off local Democrats' legal challenges that aimed to provide absentee ballots for those who do not wish to risk their health by showing up at the polls. The US Supreme Court also denied the Texas Democratic Party's initial request in court to grant expanded access to the state's more than 16 million registered voters, a decision which President Donald Trump celebrated.
Big WIN in Texas on Mail-In Ballots! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2020
Some poll workers walked off the job prior to Tuesday due to concerns over Gov. Greg Abbott's refusal to mandate mask-wearing for voters, resulting in a handful of polling locations being shuttered, according to reporting from the Texas Tribune. The state's highest one-day count since the outbreak began was on July 11 with 10,351 confirmed cases. As of Tuesday, Texas reported nearly 275,000 cases and 3,331 deaths from the virus with a seven-day average of 9,195 new confirmed cases and 84 deaths per day, according to The New York Times. The races: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar defeated state senator and lawyer Royce West in the runoff to face Republican Sen. John Cornyn this November. Hegar has promoted her military service and life as a working mom to garner support, and has emerged as the leading candidate with roughly 22 percent of the vote in March's primary. The former helicopter pilot, who also ran for U.S. House in 2018 but was narrowly defeated, has raised more than $6.5 million according to the Center for Responsive Politics — three times more than West's estimated $1.7 million.
Hegar has received major endorsements from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the super PAC EMILY's List. West, on the other hand, has backing from local leaders in the state legislature, where he has represented Dallas for 27 years. Though their platforms align on many issues, from advocating for criminal justice reform to addressing health care inequities, the competition has turned increasingly bitter in its final weeks. One heated exchange unfolded on local television station KVUE when Royce questioned Hegar's history as a Democrat after rumors surfaced that she voted in the 2016 Republican primary and made a monetary contribution to Cornyn's campaign in 2011. Hegar admitted on air that she had indeed made a $25 dollar donation to Cornyn to "get a meeting" with him, wielding the move as an example of the corrupt influence of money in politics. She then attacked Royce for playing a role in the "broken system" by implying he became a millionaire while in office. Hegar also defended her vote for Carly Fiorina in 2016, which she said was an effort to stop the candidacy of Donald Trump, according to the Texas Tribune.
Royce suggested in an email to supporters that Hegar's remarks on his financial success were racially motivated, to which she then denied in a Zoom call with reporters, as reported by the Dallas Morning News. Royce has recently homed in on anti-racism protests around the country as a new pathway to support his bid. If elected, he will become the first Black senator to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. Hegar will face three-term GOP incumbent Cornyn, who has the largest war chest with $18.7 million raised and $12.8 million cash on hand. His reelection would help retain the upper chamber's Republican majority. No Democrat has won a statewide election since 1994, though political analysts argue the field in Texas has shifted toward more purple territory in recent years. Former local school board member Candance Valenzuela defeated former Air Force pilot looking to snag a Democratic nomination is Kim Olson in the Democratic primary for Texas' 24th Congressional District, a suburban seat spread between Fort Worth and Dallas. Valenzuela, a progressive who has shared her childhood experiences of homelessness on the campaign trail, would be the first Black Latina woman in Congress if elected. She has received endorsements from Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and the Black, Hispanic and Asian congressional caucuses. Olson's campaign was bruised by her controversial history as an administrator for the Dallas Independent School District and past charges of war profiteering in Iraq, which she has called inaccurate, according to the Texas Tribune.
Valenzuela will face former Irving Mayor Republican Beth Van Duyne, who also served in the Trump administration, in a chance to flip the seat currently held by retiring Rep. Kenny Marchant. When Rep. Pete Olson announced his retirement, 15 candidates entered the primary for the 22nd Congressional District, which includes Fort Bend County, located south of Houston. The crowded field ultimately narrowed to county sheriff Troy Nehls and longtime Republican donor Kathaleen Wall. On Tuesday, Nehls defeated Wall by a large margin in the runoff. Wall had broken state records in self-funding — a total of $8.3 million — to support her campaign, according to the Houston Chronicle. Nehls, meanwhile, had raised less than $500,000 but carried 41 percent of the vote and was recently endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Congress. The contest has not been without drama. Wall released a slew of campaign ads, including one commercial that mimics Trump's blaming of China for the coronavirus, a move Democrats have denounced as racist, as reported by the Texas Tribune. She has also received blowback from her rival after she released two ads that accused the sheriff's office of mishandling sex trafficking cases.
"To suggest we ignore cases or turn a blind eye is an ABSOLUTE LIE," Nehls wrote in a Facebook post. "I am the only candidate in this race who has done something to combat human trafficking." Nehls will run against Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni, who is hoping to flip the GOP seat after losing to Olson in 2018 by just five points. Here's the status of the other big runoff races to watch on Tuesday:
Controversial former White House physician Ronny Jackson beat Josh Winegarner to win the Republican runoff in Texas' deep red 13th congressional district.
Mike Seigel defeated Dr. Pritesh Gandhi to face Rep. Michael McCaul in the Democratic runoff for Texas' 10th congressional district, which occupies a large swath of the suburbs between Houston and Austin. The Republican runoff between Tony Gonzalez and Raul Reyes to face Democratic nominee Gina Ortiz-Jones is still too close to call in Texas' 23rd district, a Democratic-trending district which is being vacated by retiring Rep. Will Hurd. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why electric planes haven't taken off yet
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