Texas Sen. John Cornyn is readying fire for a potential race against Rep. Joaquin Castro, according to a game plan laid out to the Star-Telegram by Cornyn’s campaign Monday.
Though Cornyn already faces a handful of Democratic challengers in 2020, Castro is the candidate both parties’ operatives say could instantly thrust Texas into another high-profile Senate race. He’s the only candidate Cornyn’s team has prepared attacks for so far.
Cornyn’s team plans to focus on votes Castro took against bills providing aid for Texans impacted by Hurricane Harvey — at times separating Castro from other Texas Democrats.
It also highlights places where the San Antonio Democrat, who hasn’t faced a Republican challenger since 2014, sided with the liberal wing of his party on issues such as immigration and the environment.
Castro “is the most liberal member from Texas — even more than Beto,” said Cornyn’s campaign manager John Jackson, in reference to Democrats’ 2018 Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke. “The more Texans learn about his record the less they’re going to like.”
O’Rourke raised more than $80 million for his race against Sen. Ted Cruz, and lost by roughly 2.5 percentage points.
Castro ended 2018 with roughly $128,000 in his campaign account, and hasn’t yet decided on the Senate race against Cornyn.
Meanwhile, Cornyn, who twice chaired Republicans’ Senate campaign arm, has already hired staff and stockpiled nearly $6 million for his bid for a fourth six-year Senate term.
The senator’s approach to define Castro puts him well ahead of his GOP colleagues, according to Republicans strategists watching the Senate map.
Democrats need to flip four seats to take control in the Senate in 2020 if Trump wins re-election, three if a Democrat wins the White House. Republicans are defending 22 Senate seats, while Democrats are defending 12.
Research provided by Cornyn’s campaign points to Castro’s 2017 vote against a GOP-led plan to offer tax breaks to hurricane victims who dip into their retirement accounts – legislation some of the state’s most liberal Democrats joined onto in the weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.
It also highlights Castro’s vote against a 2018 bill to reopen the government, one that included roughly $90 billion in disaster relief for states including Texas.
Cornyn’s particularly proud of that spending agreement. As the Senate’s then GOP whip, he fought the Trump Administration to get Harvey aid included.
But the early 2018 shutdown, over Democrats’ immigration demands, pits the two men against each other on an issue Cornyn has sought to navigate carefully headed into his 2020 re-election.
Democratic leaders held out on that spending agreement in hopes of pressuring Republicans to offer protections for young immigrants brought to the country illegally when they were children. Trump planned to end the program that protects them — called DACA — in March 2018, but the move was temporarily stopped by the courts.
Cornyn says he wants a “compassionate” solution to keep DACA recipients in the country, and made Latino outreach a central part of his 2014 re-election campaign. He won the majority of Hispanic voters in that contest, against Democrat David Alameel, and his campaign wants to do better than Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s 42 percent Latino voters in 2018.
In Castro, Cornyn would face a challenger also eager to court the state’s Hispanic voters — and one who is already working to point out Cornyn’s closeness with the president on immigration and the border.
Last week Castro held a press conference on the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol, denouncing Cornyn’s vote against a resolution to disapprove of President Donald Trump’s use of emergency powers to fund his border wall.
“There has never been, according to the people that live along the border, an emergency at the border,” Castro said at that gathering. “There is a humanitarian crisis, but there is no invasion.”
Though 12 Senate Republicans voted with Democrats in support of Castro’s resolution, Cornyn and Cruz both voted against it. Castro accused the two Texas Republicans of showing “timidity,” and said they “betrayed the people of Texas in favor of Donald Trump.”
Cornyn’s research goes on to suggest that Castro voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 97 percent of the time in the last Congress - an attack used across the House map with mixed success last cycle.
It also points to Castro’s support for the Green New Deal, a liberal environmental plan introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Republicans believe that plan is politically unpopular they plan to bring it up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate when lawmakers return to Washington next week.
Castro’s campaign did not respond to request for comment.