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Air Force veteran MJ Hegar wins the Texas Democratic Senate primary

Hegar will face Sen. John Cornyn in November.

MJ Hegar heads to an early polling site in July, in Austin, Texas.
Eric Gay/AP

Air Force veteran Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar will officially face Sen. John Cornyn in November after winning out against state Sen. Royce West in Texas’s Democratic primary runoff on Tuesday.

Hegar secured the endorsement not just from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee but also from major national groups including EMILY’s List, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She has long been the anointed candidate to take on Cornyn, and she was the top vote-getter in Texas’s Super Tuesday primary in March.

On Tuesday, she again defeated West, a progressive fixture of Democratic politics in Texas. In the lead-up to the runoff, Hegar and her allies spent heavily to make sure they put the race away: According to the Texas Tribune, she, along with the DSCC and EMILY’s List, poured at least $2 million into ads in the Houston area over the last week of the race, outspending West 85 to 1.

That kind of spending might well have been necessary. According to Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University, West had been gaining traction in the race, though Tuesday’s result shows it didn’t happen quite fast enough to get him over the line.

In particular, Jones said, the national movement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis gave West a lift. “African American officeholders and political elites in the state,” he said, began to “really rally behind West in a way that they hadn’t in the original primary in March.”

Hegar was always the favorite, however, and now she heads into the general election against Cornyn with about $1.6 million in the bank and a steep climb ahead of her. The Cook Political Report rates the Texas Senate race as “Likely R,” and Jones said he believes that’s “still pretty safe.”

Texas is becoming less of a sure thing for Republicans: FiveThirtyEight’s polling average shows President Donald Trump in a dead-heat tie with Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the state, and one-time presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke came within a few points of unseating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

But Cornyn looks to be somewhat more popular in the state than his colleague in the Senate, never mind the president, and he’s running anywhere from 8 to 13 points ahead of Hegar in recent polling, so she’ll have her work cut out for her.