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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Moments after the two candidates vying to represent Texans in the U.S. Senate stepped off the debate stage, analysts and experts began dissecting their responses and what this race means for the overall picture of the country’s future during a special edition of State of Texas.
MJ Hegar and John Cornyn touched on topics ranging from stimulus checks to the coronavirus pandemic to immigration and more. People can watch the full post-debate analysis above.
Support for a stimulus
“I’ve actually done something about it,” Cornyn said, referring to a question about coronavirus relief and pointing to his support of a bipartisan $3.8 trillion expenditure bill.
Hegar said she believed the country needed more stimulus and was “upset” Congress hadn’t passed a new measure in six months.
“It was one of those answers where you can tell both of them would like to say more about what they’d like to see done, but there is some effort to not get too far out in front of the public on some of those issues,” said Kirk Watson, a former Democratic state senator from Austin and now the dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston.
Watson said this topic can help someone challenging an incumbent, because people want more to happen right now, and it can work against an incumbent who is in office and has the power to make a difference.
Larry Gonzalez, a former Republican state representative from Round Rock and now a senior consultant with Husch Blackwell Strategies in Austin, said Cornyn did have an advantage in being able to say he already has supported stimulus measures.
“I think that’s a pretty big example of what it is to be the incumbent and be part of a bipartisan effort, and I thought that was a really good answer tonight,” Gonzalez said.
The candidates were asked if they would take a coronavirus vaccine, and whether students should be required to get one, once available, before going to school. Hegar said she supported vaccinations, saying she believed people “don’t have the right to make other people sick.” Cornyn also supported a vaccine, but said those who are most vulnerable should get it first.
“Broadly what you saw from both candidates in some ways was sort of a tepid embrace for vaccines, and I think that’s because they’re both trying to manage different cross currents within their parties,” said Joshua Blank, the research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. “So for Senator Cornyn, there is a small but active minority within the Republican party who are very skeptical about vaccines and certainly a larger share of Republicans who are skeptical about mandates in general. And so, for MJ Hegar, what she has is she has a party that’s definitely more embracing of science and the vaccines, but they’re not trusting the process right now. Regardless of which candidate wins the election and who controls the White House and who controls the Congress, everybody needs compliance.”
Gromer Jeffers, a political writer for the Dallas Morning News and one of the debate’s moderators, pointed out he hoped a vaccine won’t have the same kind of “political currents” as wearing a mask does.
“Just think about this — it’s hard to get a lot of people out there to wear a mask,” Jeffers said. “So on one level it’s good they’re having this discussion right now at least to prime the pump, so to speak, to get people ready and children ready to take a vaccine.”
Views on immigration
On the topic of immigration, Cornyn said he supported the “Remain in Mexico” policy, in which asylum seekers must wait in Mexico as their cases wind their way through the immigration system. He said he believed “keeping people out of the country during this crisis is a public health measure we should support.” Hegar pointed out Cornyn supported the policy, which went into effect in January, before COVID-19. She said she didn’t support Remain in Mexico and supported immigration reform.
“Basically, they retreated to their talking points and got in their shots, and that was basically it,” Jeffers said. “There was not a whole lot of substance to the policy discussion to be had, so that was disappointing.”
Sandra Sanchez, the South Texas correspondent for BorderReport.com, which covers news along the U.S.-Mexico border, said in her analysis that she was disappointed the candidates didn’t incorporate immigration issues into more of their responses.
“I know that just now in the post debate interview MJ Hegar said she wished she would have discussed immigration more, but I feel like at any point during the hour long discussion they could have pivoted to it,” Sanchez said.
Next up — vote
So far this was the only debate set up between Hegar and Cornyn ahead of the election, although Hegar has said she would do two more debates.
Early voting in Texas begins Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3.