By Ashley Moss and Valerie Fields Hill
The morning after one of the most-watched races in the nation by African American voters, Texas Sen. Royce West conceded a win in the Texas Democratic primary runoff to up-and-comer Mary “M.J.” Hegar. West aimed to become the first Black U.S. senator from Texas.
Senator West’s campaign cited an “uphill battle” for the runoff and referenced a gap in campaign funding as a notable challenge in the race. “At the end of the day we were outspent something like $6-million to $800,000,” West said. “We worked hard for every dollar against an opponent who had all the institutional and donor support, and we spent every dollar wisely because we had to.”
Just after the polls closed on July 14th, West said in an exclusive interview with Texas Metro News that he expected to pull out a win. He acknowledged, though, that it would be “a long evening,” and noted that it was important to watch for results from various counties around the state. However, with 100 percent of precincts reporting results across the state, West ultimately trailed behind Hegar with roughly 48 percent of the Democratic vote statewide while Hegar pulled in 52 percent in Tuesday’s runoff.
In actual votes, Hegar earned a little more than 498,00 ballots to West’s 457,555 total ballot count, according to official results posted on the Texas Secretary of State’s Election Results website. Some national media outlets, including Vox and Buzzfeed news, had called the race early for Hegar. Most mainstream media outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today, did not name a winner in the close race until all precincts had reported.
In his statement Wednesday morning, Senator West congratulated Hegar on her victory in the Democratic Primary Runoff, and wished her luck in the upcoming election in November. “I congratulate M.J. Hegar on her win. I have been working to elect Democrats for decades, and I look forward to turning Texas blue in November,” he said.
Of her win, Hegar said, “I’m so proud to be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate. Now it’s time to win Texas.” Hegar will face off against Texas Senator John Cornyn, who has served in the seat for three terms, in the fall election.
The race was watched closely by some African Americans, many of whom stayed awake late Tuesday to witness the outcome. In Tarrant County, the Rev. Kyev Tatum, who leads several coalitions of African American pastors and community activists, was optimistic that the winner of the seat will defeat Cornyn, an outspoken supporter of President Trump. “I’m hoping we make history in Texas, that the Democrats will swing Texas back blue, something we haven’t seen since the (former Texas Governor) Ann Richards and Mark White days,” he said. Tatum, as did some political pundits, believed that the outcome of the race would come down to voter turnout in Central Texas, San Antonio and Houston.
West captured Harris County, including Houston and parts of some surrounding cities by a slim margin with 78,812 votes, compared to 77,222 votes for Hegar, according to the Secretary of State’s official results.
To the West of Houston in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, Hegar led West by nearly double: roughly 46,000 votes to about 24,000 votes. In Travis County voters also favored Hegar, who lives in Round Rock outside of Austin, by a hefty margin. More than 68,000 voters chose Hegar while a little more than 51,000 voted for West.
Senator West’s campaign had indicated in the months leading up to the runoff that they expected to rely heavily on voters in the state’s urban centers choosing West over Hegar. Accordingly in North Texas, Dallas County Democrats voted more than 2-to-1 for West, who resides in Dallas. West garnered more than 88,000 votes while about 39,000 voted for Hegar. Voters in Tarrant County also favored West: About 44,000 to 33,000 votes for Hegar.
Reflecting, Senator West vows to continue actively working for the people: “When I was born, my mother did not have the right to vote. She reminded me of this bracing fact this week. It brought home to me both how far African Americans have come as a people, and how much more work is to be done,” said West in a statement to his supporters. “I’m proud my mother was able to vote for me in this race, and I am re-energized today to continue my work as a state senator, addressing the needs of my constituents. We will keep working for justice in Texas.”
Ashley Moss reporting in Dallas; Valerie Fields Hill reporting in Tarrant County.