Winner of July runoff election faces incumbent John Cornyn in November

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — When the two Texas Democrats still in the running for the U.S. Senate nomination launched their campaigns last year, Americans had likely never even heard of the coronavirus.

Former Air Force pilot and Purple Heart recipient MJ Hegar and State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, will face off in a debate on Saturday that will be broadcast and streamed across Texas by Nexstar Media Group. The duo will discuss the issues Texans face today, primed by COVID-19 concerns and calls for criminal justice reform.

Hegar, who launched her campaign in April, lost a Congressional bid in 2018. West, who launched his bid in July, has held his statehouse seat for more than two decades.

The pair will make their pitch to voters ahead of the July 14 runoff.

COVID-19 changed the way both candidates campaign.

“In the military, they teach us not just to overcome obstacles, but try to turn them to our advantage,” Hegar said. “Before the pandemic, my top priority was just traveling tens of thousands of miles around and talking to as many Texans as I could about the challenges that they’re facing, and we’re just continuing to do that virtually now.”

“This gives you a opportunity to reach out to people across the state of Texas have conversations with that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, if you didn’t have this type of virtual format, and so we’re doing a better job of it,” West said.

With protests and racial justice dominating the headlines, the candidates have recently shared their perspectives on how they plan to address racial inequality.

“Just because a person happens to be African American, they’re treated differently by police,” West said in a May 28 interview. “If we don’t have credibility in our justice system, are we on the verge of anarchy in this country?”

“There are disparities in healthcare in you know, racially, there’s disparities in our criminal justice system, both racially and socio-economic status with people who are economically disadvantaged, not having the same criminal justice system as as the rich and powerful,” Hegar said.

“So I think that there’s issues out there that Texans are talking about, and that we are talking about around our kitchen table and the watercooler, but that our representatives, because of our low voter turnout in the past are not talking about it or not legislating solutions to,” Hegar continued.

Both candidates said it’s time for new leadership in Washington.

“We can’t get our government to really do much for us, because they’re so you know, busy bickering with each other and playing politics with our lives and pandering to their corporate donors,” Hegar said. “So I think that the problems that were here before COVID are just magnified now and my type of leadership style is what’s needed.”

“My readiness for the position is pretty clear,” West said. “You begin to look at the wealth of experience that I’ve been able to accumulate in the Texas Legislature working with Democrats and Republicans in order to get things done, I’ve been able to do that.”

Hegar and West both spoke extensively with Wes Rapaport about the campaign. Those interviews can be found on the statewide political program ‘State of Texas.’

The winner in July faces incumbent John Cornyn, who has held his seat since 2002.

“Texas Democrats are a little different than national Democrats in my experience, and I think whoever the nominee is going to be is going to have a hard time distinguishing themselves and appealing to what I would call the mainstream in Texas because of the extreme positions taken at the national level by the so called progressives,” Cornyn said Thursday.

Cornyn said he would probably watch some of the debate on Saturday night.

“I think there’s different types of politicians in Washington, DC, and elsewhere,” he said. “There is a show business component to it, but there’s also the problem solving component, and I tend to be more of a problem solver than show horse, but I appreciate the chance I have to work on behalf of Texans and I’m proud of the record we’ve accomplished,” Cornyn added.

Additional debate details can be found here.

Early voting runs June 29 through July 10. Election Day is July 14. Election information from the Texas Secretary of State’s office is posted online.

Eric Lefenfeld and John Thomas contributed to this report.