On Tuesday, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination to challenge GOP Sen. John Cornyn in Texas. Hegar is the first major Democratic candidate to jump in the race, but, as we’ll discuss, she may not be the last.
Hegar ran for the House last year against GOP Rep. John Carter in Texas’s 31st Congressional District and held the longtime incumbent to a 51-48 win in a seat that Trump had carried 54-41 two years before. This was the first time in decades that Democrats had made a serious effort to win this district, which is located in Austin’s northern suburbs, and the DCCC unsuccessfully tried to recruit her to run against Carter again in 2020.
One thing that impressed Democrats last cycle was Hegar’s very strong fundraising. She took in over $5 million for her 2018 campaign thanks in large part to a strong web video that stared the candidate talking about the challenges she overcame in life. That ad, titled “Doors,” featured Hegar describing growing up in an abusive household and becoming an Air Force pilot before she recounted how she saved her passengers after her medevac helicopter was shot down by the Taliban and sued the Pentagon over their now-defunct policy that prevented women from serving in ground combat positions.
Hegar kicked off her Senate campaign with a new web video that recounted her life and campaign (and featured a cameo from comedian Patton Oswalt). She concluded by hitting Cornyn, who dubbed himself “Big John” in a 2008 web ad that went viral for a very different reason, by declaring, “He calls himself ‘Big John,’ but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government.” She went on to call “Big John” out for “shrinking out of the way again while they try and take away protections for those of us with pre-existing health conditions.”
Hegar gives Team Blue an experienced candidate with a strong biography to take on Cornyn, a longtime politician who ended March with a hefty $7.4 million war chest. However, she may have to get through a competitive primary before she can focus on what will be a challenging and very expensive general election in what’s still a conservative state. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a well-connected congressman from the San Antonio area, has been talking about running for a while and recently promised to decide “soon.” Houston City Councilor Amanda Edwards, who holds a citywide seat, has also been considering and recently said that she won’t defer to Hegar or Castro.
P.S: While Hegar’s decision to run for the Senate takes some pressure off Carter in the 31st District, he still may be vulnerable against another Democrat. According to the Texas Legislative Council, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz carried this congressional district against Beto O'Rourke just 50.5-48.4 last year, which was very similar to his statewide margin of victory.