Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez gets super PAC help in Democratic primary to challenge Cornyn

Author and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez at her home in Austin on Jan. 31, 2020. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)
Author and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez at her home in Austin on Jan. 31, 2020. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)

A new super PAC is coming to the aid of Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez as she seeks to advance to a widely expected runoff for the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The group, Lone Star Forward PAC, is launching a TV ad buy Wednesday across South Texas and El Paso that includes a 30-second spot saying Tzintzún Ramirez is "running to be our first Latina senator." A narrator goes on to mention the candidate's views on issues such as health care and gun laws before saying, "Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez — her fight is our fight." Throughout, the spot highlights her endorsements from the Latino Victory Fund, two labor unions, the Austin Chronicle and Rosie Castro, the mother of Julían and Joaquin Castro.

The buy comes after a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showed that one of Tzintzún Ramirez's 11 primary rivals, MJ Hegar, is well-positioned to make it to a runoff, while several candidates, including Tzintzún Ramirez, are in contention for second place. Hegar has been benefitting from seven figures worth of outside spending on her behalf.

The Lone Star Forward ad buy is running through Monday on broadcast TV in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Laredo and El Paso, as well as on cable in Harlingen, according to a person involved in the effort not authorized to speak publicly on behalf of the super PAC. The group is spending "low six figures" on the initial buy, the person said, and the super PAC is expected to stay on the air through the March 3 primary.

Lone Star Forward PAC was registered last month with the Federal Election Commission, and its treasurer is Tory Gavito, president and co-founder of the progressive donor network Way to Win.

"Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is a champion for all Texans," Gavito said in an interview. "I've followed her work and worked alongside her for many years as she dove into really trying to make Texans' lives better through policy change ... and when I look ahead at what it's gonna take to hold the 2018 coalition, it's definitely though mobilizing the Latino and young vote ... and we think she's got the chops to do it."

The super PAC will have to disclose its donors for the first time by midnight Thursday. The group says it is getting financial support from sources including Communication Workers of America, District 6, which has endorsed Tzintzún Ramirez.

The super PAC's intervention on Tzinztzún Ramirez's behalf continues to fuel an awkward dynamic in the primary as some candidates — now two — benefit from significant outside spending while assailing big money in politics in their campaigns. Tzintzún Ramirez has been particularly outspoken as of late, sending multiple fundraising emails that are critical of the super PAC help that Hegar has gotten from VoteVets, a national Democratic group focused on electing more veterans.

"Unlike other campaigns, Cristina doesn’t rely on $3.3 million dollar checks from super PACs or special interests to help fund her vision," one of the emails said.

Tzintzún Ramirez's campaign provided a statement in response to the Lone Star Forward buy.

“Unfortunately the way our democracy works today we can’t control spending from outside groups,” campaign manager David Sanchez said. “Yesterday on the debate stage Cristina clearly stated our campaign’s position on money in politics: we need elected officials more beholden to the American people than their corporate donors by moving toward a system of publicly financed elections.”