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Race for the U.S. Senate: Sen. John Cornyn's rise and the Republican hold on Texas

The race to face U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November is now down to two Democrats, but defeating the long-time Republican won't come easy.

AUSTIN, Texas — In 2002, former Texas Supreme Court judge-turned-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn won his bid for the U.S. Senate. Eighteen years later, he's serving his third term in office and is vying for his fourth. 

"I want to thank all of my supporters across Texas for nominating me to be your United States Senate candidate for the Republican Party in 2020," Cornyn told a crowd after winning the primary election back in March. 

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An average of the top three political polls complied by ABC News's FiveThirtyEight finds the race is "likely" to go to Cornyn. That's a drop from earlier in 2020 when Cornyn's seat was considered "solid Republican" on the widely used polling scale, but his position is still stronger than "leaning republican" and isn't a toss-up seat.   

Plus, history is on Cornyn's side. The solid blue state of Texas started to shift red in the 1970s. In the 1980s, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan pushed the needle. 

"He campaigned very hard in East Texas, and told those people they can be Reagan Democrats, 'Be a Democrat, but vote for Ronald Reagan.' And they did, and they stayed there," political consultant James C. Moore told KVUE in November 2017.

In 1993, Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson ended a 150-year streak of having at least one Democrat represent Texas in the U.S. Senate when she defeated Democratic Sen. Bob Krueger. 

Democrats have not won a statewide election in Texas since 1994. But this doesn't mean the Senate seat is "in the bag" for Sen. Cornyn, in part because of something we'll call "The Beto Factor."    

In 2018, Congressman Beto O'Rourke (D) nearly defeated Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in the race for Cruz's seat. O'Rourke fell short of winning by just 2.6%, or about 223,000 votes.

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"As it turned out, just by that much, voters didn't want an alternative," Ross Ramsey, executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, told KVUE after the election. "But they sure considered one. And you know, Beto O'Rourke, that campaign built a question mark for the Republicans and a challenge for the Democrats. Can you repeat this turnout?"

Two Democrats are left in the race to try and disrupt the Republican hold on Texas – MJ Hegar and State Sen. Royce West. Voters will decide which of the two will take on Sen. Cornyn in July. 

KVUE is hosting a debate between the candidates Monday, June 29, at 6:30 p.m. It can be viewed live on KVUE, at kvue.com and on the KVUE YouTube page.

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