AUSTIN, Texas — In the middle of the Democratic debates, a political ad aired that, to many, seemed out of place: an attack ad on State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) who's challenging U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the 2020 election.
The ad is the work of Sen. Cornyn's campaign.
"The first thing that's surprising about a Cornyn ad in the middle of a Democratic debate is that Cornyn's a Republican and he supposedly wants to talk to Republican voters," said Ross Ramsey, co-founder and executive editor of The Texas Tribune. "But [he] obviously wants to talk to Democratic voters right now."
Along with the not-so-subtle message conveyed in the ad – that State Sen. West is a liberal – there was a less obvious message some believe Sen. Cornyn is trying to get across.
"There's one argument out there that Cornyn wants West to be the candidate who makes it out of the primary, right. Raise his name ID, get him a little bit of fame and glory and get him out of the March primary and then go wail on him," Ramsey said.
There are several other Democrats vying for the chance to face Sen. Cornyn, including veteran M.J. Hegar and Houston City Councilmember Amanda Edwards. Former U.S. Congressman Chris Bell has hinted he will run as well.
But the Cornyn camp is focusing on State Sen. West both with the TV ad and an anti-West website.
These tactics may remind Texans of a certain gubernatorial campaign from not that long ago.
"In Abbott's case, it was attacking Lupe Valdez over Andrew White," Ramsey said.
Valdez won the Democratic primary but lost to Gov. Abbott in the election. The use of a similar tactic is not just happenstance, Ramsey said.
"The campaign manager of the 'Abbott for Governor' campaign is now the campaign manager for the 'John Cornyn for Senate' campaign," Ramsey said. "So there's, you know, some of this rhymes. Some of the people behind, you know, some of the contractors, some of the consultants, Cornyn and Abbott also have in common."
Ramsey said there's also a chance Sen. Cornyn sees State Sen. West as the biggest threat so he wants to knock him down early.
"Theory number three is they're just testing ads and they want to see how things are going. 'What happens if we say this? What happens if we say that?'" Ramsey said.
State Sen. West's camp released the following statement in reaction to the attack ad:
"Although I appreciate Cornyn’s free television advertising for our campaign, this shallow and divisive attack only reminds us that Cornyn and the flailing Trump administration can’t deal with the real challenges facing our state and America. Yesterday was the anniversary of the historic signing of Medicaid and Medicare. Why isn’t Cornyn talking about expanding Medicaid in Texas so millions more can have coverage? Our country will not be divided and conquered by people who offer no solutions to our challenges. We will stand united and advocate for healthcare as a right."
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