BY Ross Ramsey
U.S. Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, with a scant 11% of Texas Democrats supporting her, leads the Democratic candidates in the race for U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. The bigger piece of news might be this: 66% of potential Democratic primary voters said either that they don’t know who they’ll support or that they haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion.
Asked whether they’ve heard of the candidates, most of the respondents threw up their hands. State Sen. Royce West of Dallas, the most well-known of the candidates, was known to just 22% of voters, followed by Hegar, an unsuccessful 2018 congressional candidate from Round Rock, 21%; Chris Bell, a former U.S. representative and the party’s 2006 candidate for governor, 20%; Sema Hernandez, who ran against Beto O’Rourke in last year’s primary for U.S. Senate, 13%; Beaumont pastor Michael Cooper and political organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, 12% each; and Amanda Edwards, an at-large Houston City Council member, 10%. Everyone else was known to fewer than 8% of Democratic voters.
“It’s not depressing if you’re John Cornyn,” said James Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-directs the poll. “The generous interpretation is that the crowded field at the presidential level is getting most of the public attention.
“The Democrats have not been able to find a candidate with experience running statewide who is fresh in the minds of the voters and is willing to run at the state level,” he said.
Nevertheless, in a race held today, Hegar is the favorite, at 11%, with the other candidates mired in the low single digits behind her: West, 5%; Hernandez and Tzintzún Ramirez, 3% each; and Bell, Cooper and Edwards, 2% each.
“[Hegar] is really well positioned,”said Daron Shaw, professor of government at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “She’s the frontrunner. I don’t know that it’s her race to lose, but she’s certainly got a leg up.”
To cap that off, 46% of those voters said they were either “very” or “somewhat” likely to change their minds about their choices between now and the March primaries.
“These aren’t bad statewide numbers for candidates who have mostly regional appeal,” said Joshua Blank, manager of polling and research for the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.
Democratic voters said the most important issues facing the country are political corruption/leadership, 16%; health care and gun control/violence, 14% each; and climate change, 13%. The most important problems facing the state, they said, are gun control/violence, 21%; political corruption/leadership, 12%; and health care, 11%.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 550 registered voters who indicated their intention to vote in the 2020 Texas Democratic presidential primary was conducted from Aug. 29-Sept. 8 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.17 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.