By Patrick Svitek
State Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, announced Monday evening he is exploring a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, potentially giving the state's senior senator his most prominent intraparty opponent yet.
Fallon, a former state representative elected to the Texas Senate last year, told a Tea Party group here that he was forming an exploratory committee and moving on a quick timeline, hoping to have a conversation with GOP voters over the next few days. Fallon said that for six months, he had been hoping that a "viable conservative choice" would step up to take on Cornyn, but that person never emerged.
Addressing the True Texas Project, formerly the NE Tarrant Tea Party, Fallon pitched himself as a U.S. Senate candidate who would bring more energy and conviction to the fight that awaits Republicans in the general election. At one point, he said he hoped to galvanize Republicans much like Beto O'Rourke revved up Democrats last year in his closer-than-expected loss to the state's junior senator, Ted Cruz.
"What would happen in Texas if we can finally have a candidate — a new one — that energized the right?" Fallon said. "That gave everybody in this room something to believe in, to say, 'This person, I believe that they care, I believe that they will do as they say,' and I have an eight-year record to prove that. You don’t have to take that leap of faith — compare our records."
Cornyn's campaign did not have any immediate comment on Fallon's announcement. Fallon did not mention Cornyn by name but repeatedly referred to the "long-term incumbent" and said, "He's had 18 years. Some of the things you agree with until you check under the hood" and see whether his rhetoric matches his record.
Cornyn drew seven primary challengers in 2014, most notably then-U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, and defeated them without a runoff. So far, most attention on the 2020 U.S. Senate race has focused on the Democratic side, where several candidates are vying to take on Cornyn after Cruz's close call last year.
Cornyn has nonetheless moved quickly to shore up his right flank for 2020, securing endorsements late last year from Cruz, who declined to back Cornyn in the 2014 primary, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the president of the state Senate. Then, in February, Cornyn got the backing of President Donald Trump.
Hours before the Tea Party meeting, Cornyn's campaign released a minute-long ad touting those endorsements, as well as that of Gov. Greg Abbott.
After Fallon's announcement, Patrick reiterated his support for Cornyn. Patrick strategist Allen Blakemore said in a statement that the lieutenant governor has endorsed Cornyn "and is behind him 100%."
Fallon could be the third Republican to line up to challenge Cornyn in 2020, following two lower-profile candidates. One is Dallas financial adviser Mark Yancey, and the other is Dwayne Stovall, who finished third in the 2014 primary, behind Stockman, with 11% of the vote. Stovall was running as an independent against Cornyn this cycle before switching to the GOP primary last month.
Fallon won his Texas Senate seat last year, easily defeating fellow Republican Craig Estes of Wichita Falls. Fallon is not up for reelection until 2022 and therefore would not have to give up his current position to take on Cornyn.
Fallon previously served six years in the state House.
This article originally appeared at the Texas Tribune.