By Ashley Moss and Valerie Fields Hill
In one of the most watched races in the nation by African American voters, Texas Sen. Royce West trailed up-and-comer Mary “M.J.” Hegar in his quest to become the first Black U.S. senator from Texas.
With about 76 percent of precincts across the state reporting at about 10 pm, West tallied roughly 48 percent of the Democratic vote statewide while Hegar pulled in 52 percent in July 14th’s State Primary Runoff Election.
In actual votes, Hegar earned a little more than 469,000 ballots to West’s 429,700, according to unofficial results posted by the Texas Secretary of State.
Earlier in the night, 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.”
“The reality is that we have to look at counties around the state to see what they are reporting,” he said in a Zoom web conference broadcast shortly after the polls closed in Texas at 7 pm.
“I think it’s going to be a close race,” he said. “I just don’t know right now. We feel confident we will win.”
Meanwhile, Hegar, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, had not posted any comments by 10 pm Tuesday night on any of her campaign’s social media accounts, including its Twitter feed, Facebook page or Instagram.
Still, some national media outlets, including the conservative Fox News network, called the race for Hegar.
Meanwhile, in North Texas, some African Americans stayed awake late Tuesday, continuing to watch the race’s outcome. The winner of the runoff faces Texas Senator John Cornyn, who has served in the seat for three terms.
In Tarrant County, the Rev. Kyev Tatum, who leads several coalitions of African American pastors and community activists, said he continues to be optimistic that whoever wins the seat would 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, said he believes that the outcome of the race depends on voter turnout in Central Texas, San Antonio and Houston.
“The Southeast sector is going to determine who wins the election,” Tatum said. “That trifecta is going to be the deciding factor.”
West led Harris Country, including Houston and parts of some surrounding cities by a narrow 50 percent to Hegar’s 49 percent as of 11 pm on July 14th, according to the Secretary of State’s unofficial results.
To the west of Houston in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, Hegar led West by nearly double: roughly 45,000 votes to about 23,000 votes.
Travis County voters favored Hegar, who lives in Round Rock outside of Austin, by a hefty margin. More than 66,000 voters chose Hegar while a nearly even 50,000 voted for West.
In North Texas, Dallas County Democrats voted more than 2-to-1 for West, who resides in Dallas. Nearly 88,000 people voted for West while about 23,000 voted for Hegar.
Voters in Tarrant County also favored West about 42,000 to 31,000.
West’s campaign had said 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.
Last night, his campaign’s communications director said they would not comment further on the election’s outcome until Wednesday morning.
He said on a conference call with news media that campaign officials and West believed that the race was still close, considering there were absentee and other ballots still to be counted across the state.
“He’s not making any statement tonight,” West’s Communications director, Vince Leibowitz, said. “There will be no statement one way or the other.”
Ashley Moss reporting in Dallas; Valerie Fields Hill reporting in Tarrant County.
Update (12:41 am): The AP, Texas Tribune and other organizations have since called the runoff race for M.J Hegar, who has declared victory. Royce West has not conceded and will make a statement after more results are counted.