Chris Bell, the former Democratic congressman and gubernatorial nominee from Houston, is mulling a bid for U.S. Senate in 2020 against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Bell told The Texas Tribune on Monday that he is taking a "serious look" at the race in the wake of the recent decision by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, to pass on a bid against Cornyn. Bell said he is in the "very early" stage of deliberations but believes he would need to make a decision by this summer to be able to run a viable campaign.
There are already several Democratic candidates, including former U.S. House contender MJ Hegar, and a couple of other prominent people are still weighing whether to run. Bell expressed confidence that he could break through.
"I certainly think it's a field I could compete in," Bell said, touting his long record helping build up the party in Texas. "Many of us believe this is the year the pendulum finally swings."
Bell has decades of experience in Texas Democratic politics, especially in Houston. He served on the City Council from 1997-2001, represented the area in the U.S. House from 2003-2005 and ran for governor in 2006. He was the Democratic nominee against then-Gov. Rick Perry, the Republican who won with 39% of the vote to Bell's 30%, while two independent candidates — Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman — siphoned off the rest.
Bell has since attempted a couple of political comebacks, running for Texas Senate in 2008 and Houston mayor in 2015. He finished fifth in the crowded mayoral contest, which then-state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, eventually won.
Bell, who now has his own law firm in Houston, said he thought he was done with running for office, but like many Democrats, he felt compelled to "stay involved or get involved" after President Donald Trump's election in 2016. Bell said he had hoped Beto O'Rourke, the former El Paso Congressman who made an unsuccessful but high-profile bid for U.S. Senate last year, would run for the U.S. Senate again in 2020. After both O'Rourke and Castro opted against challenging Cornyn, Bell began considering what he could bring to the race.
"I think a big part of my message would be a lot of people are looking to Texas now for guidance, and we're in a perfect position to lead," Bell said, pointing to issues such as immigration reform and climate change. He also echoed other Democrats in claiming Cornyn has been afraid to stand up for Texas, shrinking behind Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Bell is not the only Houstonian weighing a U.S. Senate bid. Amanda Edwards, a current City Council member, has been looking at a run since at least early March. The potential field also includes state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who continues to be discussed as a possible contender and has not ruled it out.
In addition to Hegar, the Democrats already running include Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.