Are desperate Democrats in Texas resorting to identity politics in Senate race?

Democrats in Texas really want to win a statewide election and Senator John Cornyn’s re-election race fits the bill. Just when it looked like Democrats had settled on a candidate, the field of potential challengers continues to grow with no end in sight yet.

Texas Democrats were unsuccessful in convincing Joaquin Castro (twin brother of Julian, a 2020 presidential candidate) or Beto O’Rourke to challenge Cornyn in the Senate race so the next best hope is thought to be MJ Hegar. Hegar unsuccessfully ran against incumbent Rep. John Carter in 2018 but, like Beto’s challenge against Ted Cruz, she ran a strong race and came close to victory. She won 47.7% of the vote to Carter’s 50.6%. The left enthusiastically welcomed her decision to run for the Senate in 2020. Hegar is a former Air Force helicopter pilot. Like Beto, she captured the imagination of Democrats longing for the chance to turn Texas blue and her fundraising numbers were impressive.

So why are some Texas Democrats still looking for a candidate? Texas State Senator Royce West, an African-American politician from Dallas, met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and staffers of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, last month. That meeting reportedly went well and West indicated he is leaning towards entering the race. Schumer met with Hegar in March.

While we wait to see if West jumps in – he said he’ll make his decision this month – another name of a potential challenger has surfaced. Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a top organizer of Latino voters, is being recruited by Democrat operatives. Ramirez is the founder and executive director of Jolt, a Texas-based organization focused on building the political power and influence of young Latinos. I wrote about Jolt last month. She is also co-founder of the Workers Defense Project which focuses on labor rights.

Two names behind recruiting Ramirez are Ginny Goldman, founding executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, and the field director for Beto O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate campaign, Zack Malitz. Supporters of the effort to get Ramirez into the race see the potential for her candidacy to fire up Texas Democrats as Beto did. There has been no official comment from Ramirez but she is said to be seriously considering the idea. In the meantime, the Democrat field remains fluid.

The effort to recruit Tzintzún Ramirez underscores how the primary is still taking shape, even after MJ Hegar, the former U.S. House candidate, entered the race in mid-April and raised over $1 million. Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston has since made clear he is running, and the field is likely to grow further in the coming weeks. State Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who is viewed as likely to run, has scheduled an announcement for July 22. And Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is also moving closer to a campaign.

“I think there’s a lot of room available in this primary where there’s not one like Castro who ran and it would’ve been a done deal,” said veteran national Democratic operative Gilberto Ocañas, referring to Joaquin Castro, the San Antonio congressman who decided against a run earlier this year. “I think you have a lot more open.”

As for Tzintzún Ramirez, Ocañas said she has “great potential,” pointing the two influential organizations she helped build at relatively young ages and her ability to appeal to not just Latino voters but millennial Latino voters who hold the keys to the state’s political future. Ocañas’ wife, Ana “Cha” Guzman, is on Jolt’s Leadership Council.

“There’s not one like Castro who ran and it would’ve been a done deal.” That means there is a strong desire for a Latino/Latina candidate. Hegar is white. Though she raised over $1 million since she announced her candidacy in April, she doesn’t check the ethnic box. The party of identity politics is alive and well in Texas.

Senator Cornyn raised $2.5 million in the second quarter and he has $9.1 million cash on hand. Hegar has a little less than $600,000 cash on hand.

Both campaigns detailed their second-quarter fundraising ahead of Monday’s end-of-day deadline to disclose it to the Federal Election Commission.

Cornyn’s campaign said 83% of its second-quarter donations came from Texas, nearly 9 in 10 contributions were under $200 and just under two-thirds of donors were new.

Hegar’s campaign, which previously announced the $1 million figure, also released new details on its second-quarter fundraising Monday. It had over 10,000 donors, almost 6 in 10 contributions were from Texans and 9 out of 10 donations were under $100.

Hegar’s average online donation was $28, while Cornyn’s average overall contribution was $167.30, their respective campaigns said.

It is still early in the race, but I think Cornyn’s in good shape for re-election. All the Republican voters in Texas have to do now is wait for the Democrats to decide which candidate they will get behind as their party’s savior.