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March 17, 2020

GOP Senator and Democrat Nominee for Congress
First Dominos in Halt to Public Campaigns in Texas

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

The coronavirus reign of terror intensified in Texas on Tuesday when U.S. Senator John Cornyn put his re-election bid on hold so he can focus full-time on his part in the fight to keep the worst health crisis in more than a century under control.

The veteran Republican lawmaker revealed in an email that he'd suspended all campaign activities for an indefinite period of time in a move that brought a temporary end to fundraising, volunteer efforts and appearances at public events where supporters could be exposed to COVID-19.

Cornyn issued the somber announcement about 45 minutes after Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni of Sugar Land informed supporters that he was effectively moving his entire campaign in an open congressional race online without any more public events or ground game efforts including door-to-door contact with voters - a mainstay of retail politics in the Lone Star State.

The first two temporary campaign freezings set the stage for a wave of similar announcements in a state where the largest cities have turned to ghost towns almost overnight as people hunker down with plans to have as little contact with other humans as possible.

Cornyn and Kulkarni broke the news the morning after the Texas Republican Party began the process of shifting its state convention from May to July in line with a Centers for Disease Control proposed to cancel all public events that more than 50 were planning to attend. Texas election officials moved on Monday to put an end to speculation about a possible primary runoff election postponement amid hopes of conducting the overtime vote exclusively with mail-in ballots.

The Cornyn and Kulkarni announcements both represented dramatic departures from typical campaign communiques without any hints of the bitter partisan warring that would have escalated here in the wake of the Super Tuesday primary election under normal circumstances in the nation's most critical battleground state in 2020.

Kulkarni will be facing the winner of a Republican primary runoff that features first-round leader Troy Nehls and runner-up Kathaleen Wall. The runoff election will be held on May 26 barring a decision by state officials to move it to a later date. CD 22 is one of at least six Texas congressional districts that Democrats at the national level are targeting for takeovers this fall.

Cornyn will be waiting in the wings for the Democrat who emerges from overtime in a battle that has MJ Hegar pit against State Senator Royce West of Dallas as the candidates who finished first and second respectively in the primary election in the U.S. Senate race here.

The sedate tone of the sudden change of plans for Kulkarni represented an abrupt turnabout from just two weeks ago when he'd been celebrating the results of a primary election that he'd won with 53 percent of the vote in a field with four contenders in a bid for a U.S. House seat that he came surprisingly close to winning in 2018.

"We’re launching virtual phone banks, peer-to-peer texting, and some volunteers have asked us to send them postcards to put in the mail while they’re at home," Kulkarni campaign manager Allen Chen said. "Although we may be separated physically for the foreseeable future, we will rise above this all together in our goal to bring true representation to TX-22."

Kulkarni lost by less than 5 points to Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson in the last election cycle in Congressional District 22 in a swath of the state that had been solid red until then on the outer edge of the Houston area. With Olson joining a parade of Texas congressional Republicans who aren't running for new terms this year, Kulkarni has appeared to have a good shot at wrestling CD 22 away from the GOP with President Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket as a proven liability for down-ballot candidates here.

Cornyn had none of the confrontational and insulting rhetoric that his campaign literature had contained before the reshaping of the political landscape by COVID-19. The Cornyn email on the suspend campaign revolved instead on a theme of unity with an attempt to be uplifting as well.

"I know these are worrisome times," Cornyn said. "Yet there are already incredible stories of neighbors taking care of neighbors, and businesses going above-and-above to help others. Texans are being responsible and making plans for their families and businesses.

"Let us all do our part to be prepared, prevent panic, and help steady ourselves, our communities and neighbors," Cornyn added. "We're in this together."

 

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